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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 4 Jun 1959

Vol. 175 No. 9

Road Fund (Grants and Advances) (Temporary Provisions) Bill, 1959—Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time.

This Bill is designed to supplement the income of the Road Fund to enable it to deal with two special road problems.

The first of these has arisen out of the recent closing of branch railway lines. As the House is aware, a number of these lines were found by the transport undertakings to be uneconomic; in fact, in the case of lines affected by the closing of lines in the Six Counties, it was impracticable to keep them in operation. The resultant extra bus and lorry traffic has created urgent problems in the areas affected. The roads concerned would ultimately be dealt with under the road improvement programmes of the counties concerned, but the existing level of their road grants and the other roads requiring attention would prevent them from dealing effectively with the problem in a reasonable time. It was decided therefore that special assistance should be given to these road authorities.

The second category of problem arose where a major industrial undertaking has created a considerable increase in road traffic and given rise to a need for major road improvements on a scale which the road authority would be unable to deal with on the basis of their existing grant allocations.

A review of the position of the Road Fund showed that it could not bear the extra grants involved. The effect of previous loans and of commitments in respect of past grants involves that the present scale of Road Fund grants, approximately £5 millions, is unlikely to increase substantially in the next five years, even if the income from motor taxation continues to increase gradually. It will be recalled that, following the Capital Fund appropriation of £500,000 in 1956/57 and the high level of grants maintained for a number of years, commitments on the Road Fund had amounted to £4.18 millions at the end of 1956/57, compared with £1.8 millions on 31st March, 1954. It was necessary to borrow £900,000 in 1957/58 to reduce these commitments and so enable the level of Road Fund grants—at about £5 millions—to be maintained. That exhausted the borrowing powers of the Road Fund, and while it cut down the commitments considerably, they are still at an abnormal level—£3¼ millions on 31st March last.

The Government therefore decided that the income of the Road Fund should be supplemented by special measures to enable it to assist the road authorities to deal with the two types of problem I have mentioned. The total supplement to the Fund will not exceed £2 millions, and this will be spread over a period of 5 years. Half of it will be a free grant to the Fund and half of it will be a repayable loan.

Two million pounds is a very considerable sum, and it should help the road authorities to deal with the more pressing road problems arising under the two heads I have mentioned, but I would be slow to say that they can all be solved out of these funds. For that reason grants must be strictly confined to cases which clearly come within the specified conditions. In the case of the railway lines, the closings must be recent ones, i.e., either in the last couple of years or currently. Similarly, the grants for public roads serving industrial undertakings must be confined to major undertakings and to acute road problems affecting them. In regard to both the railway lines and the industrial undertakings, there is the further criterion that the road problems involved must be so substantial that they cannot be dealt with under the road authority's normal grant allocations. In the light of what I have said, it will be seen that I have had no option but to reject, with regret, quite a number of applications for grants already.

I have allocated the following grants for 1959/60 to counties affected by recent and immediately prospective railway closings:—

£

Cavan County Council

45,000

Donegal County Council

75,000

Leitrim County Council

40,000

Monaghan County Council

45,000

Sligo County Council

45,000

The total for 1959/60 is £250,000.

I have given these counties an assurance that consideration will be given to further grants in each of the next four years. The amounts of these grants will be determined having regard to the funds available.

In the following cases, councils have been advised that consideration will be given to grants for roads dealing with industrial development, and the councils have been asked to prepare estimates and plans for the work to enable me to determine the grants:—

County Council

Road

Serving

Clare

Shannon Airport to Limerick.

The Airport and development in neighbourhood.

Cork

Midleton to Whitegate.

The Oil Refinery.

Leitrim and Roscommon.

A number of county roads.

Collieries.

Monaghan

A county road.

A gypsum mine.

Wicklow

From Avoca to Arklow.

The copper mine.

Until estimates are received for these works, I shall not be in a position to say how much is involved and what the effect will be on the total funds available. The expenditure will in general be spread over a number of years.

I am sure the House will have no hesitation in accepting the principles of the Bill and giving it a Second Reading.

I want to say a few words on this Bill. As usual we listened to the lamentation about money that has been spent. The money spent has given us a road system which is the admiration of strangers coming to this country. It may be that if any fault was to be found it would be that the road system was built at too high a standard. If we are serious about the tourist trade something about which we may be reasonably satisfied is that we have now in this country a road system which, in so far as the tourist trade is concerned, compares favourably probably with the road systems in any other country. There is however a certain aspect to which regard should be had. First, having built a very fine road system it is a matter of very great consequence that the surfaces of the existing roads should be preserved. Secondly, having provided for the tourist requirements of this country we should not forget that in addition to tourists there is a large body of natives like ourselves who conduct their business carrying milk over the roads to the creameries, or driving cattle and sheep and farm produce on what are commonly described as county roads. On these few matters I want to say a word.

Is there any general line of policy laid down as to the extent of the expenditure that is legitimate for the easing of corners? When this programme began it seemed a rational kind of procedure to remove dangerous corners but I see operations being carried out for the removal of corners which, so far as I can see, and in my own experience, never created any hazard in themselves although they imposed on persons approaching them some degree of caution and required them to lower the rate of speed at which they were driving their cars from that appropriate to a long, straight stretch of country road to a more moderate pace. But if such corners existed is it necessary to undertake an expenditure of £40,000 or £50,000 to remove them, unless there is an abundance of money available which can be readily disposed of? That is a circumstance which I do not anticipate arising in the early future.

At the same time as these immense undertakings for the easing of corners are proceeding, I get the impression that some of the trunk roads which have been constructed at considerable cost over the last ten years, are being allowed to deteriorate. It strikes me frequently travelling these roads, as I do a great deal, that much of the expenditure on these large operations —involving excavation by machinery and the transport of large quantities of stone and materials for the raising of levels, or the removal by heavy machinery of slight bumps in the roads—entails starving the proper maintenance of the excellent trunk roads that exist. I should like to hear from the Minister if, in respect of the trunk roads, a due preference is required for essential works maintenance before what may be described as luxury operations are undertaken.

The second point I want to make is this. I understand that grants from the Road Fund are mainly related to the maintenance and development of trunk roads but there must be some relationship between the expenditure on trunk roads and the expenditure on county roads. I think there are certain parts of the country in which the comparison between the condition of the county roads and the trunk roads is becoming so glaring that a legitimate resentment arises in the minds of farmers who have to use the county roads and who feel that they are being denied a reasonable degree of consideration in order to make it possible to carry out elaborate works on the trunk roads from which the local people feel they derive little or no benefit.

It is immensely important, if we accept responsibility here for appropriating large sums of money, and for their expenditure, to ensure that we shall retain the full and understanding sympathy and approval of people who see the money spent. I should be glad to hear what other Deputies have to say about this matter. Do they experience, with me, some concern on the magnitude of some of the road straightening operations that are taking place, as compared with the scale of work on the maintenance of road service which is proceeding? I should also be interested to hear some Deputies express their view of whether they think it a good thing, if we wanted to develop tourist traffic, to ensure that we had a system of roads which would excite admiration in our visitors, rather than that having been drawn here by our tourist advertising, they should say that they found them almost impassable.

I think we would be very foolish if having made that great capital investment on the trunk roads we allowed it to be frittered away for the want of adequate maintenance and repair. We should bear in mind that when these great sums of money are being spent on what I shall describe generically as road straightening operations, the local people very understandably feel that, over and above the fact that they derive relatively little benefit from these dramatic improvements in the trunk roads, the labour content from which they might hope to derive indirect benefits on these large operations is relatively slight, whereas maintenance works, even if they do not give the local people any very large benefit from the enjoyment of the amenity of the road, at least give them the prospect of employment on them.

I do not suppose it is possible for the Minister or his Department to supersede the discretion of the county engineers and the local authorities, but I do not think it would be unreasonable, when the Oireachtas is making over £5,000,000 available for road works generally, if the Minister gave some indication to local authorities of the priorities we expected to be observed in the general schedule of road works undertaken.

I do not think anybody will disagree with what Deputy Dillon has said, but I was not prepared for the type of discussion he initiated. While agreeing with him, I should prefer to make my prepared statement, shall we say, on the actual Vote. I think the Minister must agree that much of what Deputy Dillon said is entirely correct. There has been a considerable amount of experimental work on roads in recent years, experiments which have proved very costly for the ratepayer and the taxpayer and which, I might add, have not been entirely successful. However, more about that on the Vote.

I do not know how tightly the Miniister is confined in the cases in which he may make grants to local authorities for the reconstruction or improvement of roads, but I want to make a plea to him to reconsider another type of road to which a grant might be applied. Perhaps I had better give a specific example: the new road needed between Wexford town and Gorey. I mention this specific case in view of the fact that the Minister himself mentioned county councils to which the new grant would be applied.

Briefly, I should like to tell him the situation. As he is probably aware, a bridge has spanned the River Slaney there for very many years. Up to the present it is incapable of carrying any type of heavy traffic. The result is that all commercial traffic to the town of Gorey from Wexford goes through Enniscorthy. A new bridge is being built and will be available for traffic, I am sure, in about six months. This means that all the traffic that hitherto went to Gorey through Enniscorthy will take the direct coast road from Wexford to Gorey.

To say the least of it, that road is in a pretty bad state at present. It is true that Wexford County Council have done what they could within their resources to give it a reasonably good surface, but it is an old coach road and has dozens of turns in it. If these turns are not corrected, it will be very dangerous. I would appeal to the Minister to assist, as best he can over a number of years, the Wexford County Council in trying to make that road what it will be regarded as, that is, a major road.

There is another aspect of the matter the Minister should consider. Quite a considerable number of tourists come to this country through Rosslare Harbour. Invariably they make for Dublin. When they ask for the direction to Dublin, they are told to go across the crooked bridge with the barrels. They then find themselves on 26 miles of very bad road indeed. It is their first introduction to the roads of this country, and it will be agreed they do not get a very good impression of Irish roads and the joys of motoring here. I do not want to labour the point. I know the Minister has considered this, but I would ask him to give it further consideration in the light of what I have said. Possibly he may make further inquiries. If he considers the application of Wexford County Council and the points I have made here, I think he will be forced to agree that something, big or small, should be done to assist the county council in making this a reasonably good road.

I appreciate what the Minister said to me by way of interjection in regard to a question of mine recently that the Road Fund gave a pretty substantial grant for the erection of Wexford Bridge. That is true. For that, the people and especially the county council were very grateful. But it means that we have now got a magnificent bridge, a magnificent entry to a road which, even though deemed to be first class, is in actual fact a third class road. I do not want the Minister to reply to me in detail. I merely put these points before him so that he may consider some grant to improve the road in some way.

Even though every member will welcome the introduction of this Bill as a very realistic approach to what has been a rather vexed problem for some time, I am somewhat disappointed that the Minister's statement did not indicate that the supplementary fund being made available will cover a number of requirements which I thought should be dealt with. In the course of his statement here, the Minister indicated that the amount available will be £2,000,000 spread over five years. I take it that half that amount will be made available by way of free grant and half by way of loan to local authorities?

The Minister gave us the categories of roads to which it is proposed to allocate grants from this supplementary fund. In explaining the list, I observe he indicated that roads which will replace railway services recently closed down would qualify. But it appears to me from that statement that any roads coming within this category must be roads which will carry traffic which heretofore was carried by railways the subject of closing orders. A number of railways have been closed in various parts of the country over the past ten years. Their traffic was diverted to the roads, but, according to the Minister's statement, these roads will not qualify for supplementary grants. I should like to make a special appeal to the Minister to reconsider that matter.

I shall quote one instance, the road from Tralee to Dingle, which runs along the old railway line. The railway line has been entirely closed down for, I should say, nine or ten years. Since then the traffic, which was pretty considerable at one time and actually up to the last war, has been diverted to the road. I would say this road at the moment is taking a considerable volume of traffic not alone of the type formerly carried by the railway but also haulage of manures, livestock and agricultural produce which in former days reached the local market towns by horse cart. This road was never built to carry heavy traffic and it is beyond the capacity of the local authority to reconstruct the road to make it suitable and satisfactory for heavy traffic. The grants given to the local authority for work carried out on the road heretofore have been normal grants such as would be given for any other normal road.

I have tried to indicate that a road of that kind, replacing a closed railway service, should qualify—with similar roads in other parts of the country which are now replacing railway lines —for special consideration. The only difference between the Tralee-Dingle road and other roads of that type is that the Dingle railway has been closed for a number of years while the other railways to which the Minister referred today have been closed down recently in accordance with the general policy of closing uneconomic lines. It would be a pity to single out the few roads of the type of the Tralee-Dingle road and deny them the facilities extended under this Bill to a number of local authorities affected by this problem.

It is because I noticed in the Minister's statement that Kerry county council is not listed either for allocation or consideration of any proposal put forward in this section that I raise the matter. I hope the Minister will find it possible to give the case some special consideration and that before the Bill passes, if necessary he will make whatever amendment, is appropriate to provide that the case I have mentioned can be dealt with.

I notice that there is another category of road in mind for improvement under this legislation, the road which serves an industrial undertaking. That is very commendable because undoubtedly industrial undertakings must have good transport facilities to enable them to operate economically. One requirement is good carriageways or roadways from the main centres into the area where the headquarters of the industrial activity are situated. I observe in the list given by the Minister of proposals under this heading that there are no proposals from County Kerry. I should like to direct his attention to some industrial undertakings in Kerry which are to some extent hampered by the fact that the local authority has not been able to provide them with the necessary roads. There is a very large undertaking of Bord na Móna in the Lyrecrompane area which is a rather isolated area between Tralee, Castleisland and Listowel.

Heretofore, with the assistance of special grants from the Road Fund, either road improvement or special employment scheme grants, roads have been made part of the way from Tralee and Castleisland into this area but the northern approach has not a good road from one section. The Listowel end is now connected with a main road which has been steamrolled in recent years. That is carrying a certain amount of traffic, light motor traffic, but it is by no means entirely suitable for use by heavy goods-carrying vehicles taking turf out of the district. It is suggested that an alternative route from the area into Listowel is a more suitable road for the conveyance of fuel from the bog area but that road in its present condition is not able to carry heavy traffic. It is not steamrolled; it has been considered on a number of occasions by the local authority but unfortunately it was not possible to add it to the list for special improvement due to the fact that funds from existing sources to the local authority are not sufficient to do what is necessary in this case. I should be glad if the Minister would examine this matter with a view to helping out the local authority with a subvention from the fund for this purpose.

When the Minister was dealing with the necessity for roads to serve certain industrial undertakings, it occurred to me that we are inclined to lose sight of the necessity for roads for agricultural undertakings. We are told agriculture is the primary industry and, from the point of view of productivity and national wealth, I think it would rate higher than any other industrial activity. I suppose it could not reasonably be expected at this stage that the Minister should give his views as to the necessity to connect certain roads in certain areas for the purpose of facilitating the agricultural industry. Later, I hope the Minister will have an opportunity of going into that. I should like to point out that some areas, particularly areas producing large quantities of beet and rape, are at present badly served as regards roads. In view of the high volume of employment that those districts are providing in the production of the commodities I have mentioned, I think that they should be classified on a somewhat similar basis to industrial areas from the point of view of being qualified for road improvement.

There are a number of points with which I was anxious to deal in connection with the expenditure of money on the improvement of roads but I think it is not appropriate to dwell too much on that point at this stage. I take it Deputies will get an opportunity at a later date on the Minister's Estimate to refer to these matters and I have decided to defer any further remarks in this connection until that opportunity arises.

I should like the Minister to enlighten me on one matter in connection with tourist road grants. I have been asking questions about this for the past five years. I have had various answers from the Minister's predecessors and they were not satisfactory. One of these Ministers told me that only Fior-Ghaeltacht areas qualified. There happens to be a Fior-Gaeltacht area in Waterford and that does not seem to qualify for this grant. I did happen to notice, however, that tourist road grants are made available to counties that have no Fior-Ghaeltacht. I shall not mention the counties; the Minister would probably know these himself.

As regards main roads, and the taking away of very bad bends, an enormous amount of money has been spent on this work and it has been the cause of great complaint down the country. The roads are magnificent but some of these main roads are in need of maintenance immediately in view of the fact that there is traffic on them, up to 25 and 30 tons, which should not be allowed on them. However, I shall have more to say about that on the Ministers' Estimate. In regard to these road grants I should like the Minister to clear this matter up because it is a cause of some curiosity with a great many of my constituents who are supporters of the Minister and of myself. Will he tell us how these grants are allotted and why they are allotted? What does a county have to do in order to qualify for them? What special qualifications or amenities should a county have to qualify for these tourist road grants?

I refrained during the course of the discussion from drawing the attention of almost every Deputy who has spoken to the fact that practically all of the matters they have raised are appropriate to the Estimate. The second Deputy who spoke, Deputy Corish, realised that and actually referred to it. Unfortunately a number of erroneous impressions may have been created by some of the things that have been said to which I shall refer briefly; the others I intend to leave over until the debate on the Estimate which should be in the not too distant future.

Deputy Dillon had various complaints to make in regard to the costly realignment of roads, which was also mentioned by other Deputies, and the lack of money for our county roads. He seemed to suggest that a greater number of grants were given for main roads than for county roads and that, generally speaking, while the money was being well spent from the Road Fund, too much of it was going to the main roads as against the county roads.

So far as the question of realignment and other costly jobs on our roads is concerned, whether they be county or main roads, I have gone to very great pains since I became Minister for Local Government to indicate to our local authorities and to those dealing with these road proposals that it is only in cases where these realignments are absolutely necessary on proved accident record or where the road is being done and to leave over the realignment would be wasteful, that such jobs are considered. Over and above that stipulation there is the general circular that went out to all local authorities over a year ago indicating to the local authorities that the elected representatives of each road authority are empowered to have a say on the merits or demerits of any proposal coming up from their county engineers to my Department, and, further, that the advice of the elected representatives will be taken and considered in my Department on all of these proposals in conjunction with, or in opposition to, the proposals that may be made by the county engineers or the engineering staff.

Having gone that far, I think I have gone as far as I really should go and that the matter should, and can be, safely left in the hands of the local elected representatives whose local knowledge and common sense should get over the difficulties that have been suggested, should avoid any wasteful expenditure and indeed should ensure that expenditure on realignments and other costly jobs is undertaken only where it is absolutely necessary and that roads are not generally neglected because of these high-cost jobs being done in any county.

The suggestion that more money is given to the main roads than is given to the county roads is completely wrong. A sum of £1,000,000 is given for main road grants and £2.4 million is given for county road grants. In addition to all that, in the very recent past, to meet the situation arising in some counties, we have indicated again to the local authorities that where the road mileage of dust-free county roads is unusually low, we shall consider allowing a switch-over of the main road moneys to supplement their county road grants. That is to meet that specific problem of trying to serve so far as possible the county road users throughout the country, who are the natives mainly, but also to serve these tourists whom all of us are anxious to see in the country. However, this matter is more appropriate to the Estimate and I do not want to widen the discussion any further than it has been widened.

There appears to be a grievance in Deputy Moloney's mind that no provision is being made under this Bill in respect of the Lyrecrompane road. The Employment and Emergency Schemes Vote moneys are being spent and will continue to be spent on this road until it is brought up to a satisfactory condition to enable it to carry the additional traffic that is being put upon it by the advent of Bord na Móna to that district. Deputy Lynch from Waterford raised specifically the question of tourist road grant allocations, but I shall leave the answer to that whole question over until the Estimate comes up for discussion.

I should like to get back to what this Bill is all about and to recall the background to it. The counties that have been mentioned, and are mentioned in my speech to-day, as benefiting as a result of recent railway closing are counties some of which made a case over a long number of years and others in more recent years. These are counties in relation to which my Department and I were enabled to make a case to justify getting these moneys. The counties mentioned are the counties that made the cases, as distinct from the counties that are now making cases and, no doubt, will make cases in future. A certain number of them will be justifiable, undoubtedly. It should be stated that the counties now named as benefiting this year are the counties that made the cases on which we sought the Government's permission for the grants we are now making available from the Exchequer.

Furthermore, in relation to the question of immediate railway closings or current railway closings, there is another condition. It applies also in regard to roads for new industrial undertakings. The inability of the local authority to carry out the work from their normal road grants is a second and very definite consideration and a condition to which full weight must be given when any proposals are sent up from any county for any part of these moneys. That is a point which should be borne in mind in all cases because it is a specific condition which must be given due weight when we are considering any proposals and claims that may be made or which, indeed, have been made in the recent past.

I do not think there is anything further I need say at this stage that cannot be more appropriately said on the Estimate. I shall keep a note of the points that have been raised that are appropriate to the debate on the Estimate and shall endeavour to answer them then to the satisfaction of the Deputies concerned.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.
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