(South Tipperary): As regards the question of regional or group schemes, in my constituency, there has been an element of agitation and often difference of opinion on this matter. We have been pursuing the policy of regional schemes but strong representation has been made to us that we and the Department have not given sufficient consideration to the question of group schemes. Indeed, we had deputations before our county council to that effect. The regional schemes suit certain areas. They seem to suit South Tipperary by virtue of the terrain. Group schemes seem to suit other areas. I believe they have been particularly successful in Wicklow, where you have mountain ranges and valleys to give a group scheme of the gravitational type.
Without in any way disparaging our local engineering services, or indeed the engineering services of any local authority, I feel we have pursued this matter of regional water supply schemes rather incautiously. I tabled a question here to the Minister asking him to set up a small survey team, consisting of a water engineer, an economist, a geologist—something on those lines—to act as a survey and advisory group for local bodies. I felt we did not have locally the type of personnel that would be able to investigate this vexed question of regional versus group schemes. The Minister replied that he felt the advice he had available to him in his Department was adequate to deal with the situation and they were there to help the local authority. I know as regards my own constituency that only one scheme as far as I remember, was actually tabled before the county council and passed as such. After that the manager was given a kind of broad permission to go forward and develop further schemes on a similar basis. At the moment we have ten or 12 regional schemes in the process of being put into operation.
I would again put to the Minister, before this rural water supply scheme is carried further on a national front and in view of the large amount of money involved, that it might be prudent for him to reconsider my suggestion to set up some kind of specialist survey group to advise local authorities, particularly those in the initial stages of development of rural water systems, as regards regional and group schemes. Probably the answer is that both systems could be put into operation in varying degrees in different counties.
I welcome the Minister's provision for some simplification as regards grants. He mentioned four authorities at present dealing with grants for water supply and sewerage. I knew only about three, but these three caused me sufficient confusion. I would welcome any clarification or any kind of order the Minister can introduce in that respect so that, when public representatives are approached by Mr. So-and-So, we will be able to pin-point more exactly what grants and services are available to him.
I gather from the Bill the Minister proposes to make some regulations as regards water charges. That is a vexed question with us. It is a question of expenses, particularly as it affects the rates. It is in that regard most of the agitation has arisen. Years ago, we were in the same position as every other county in that only a small part of the rural area, mostly the non-urban parts, the small villages, had any kind of piped water supply. That was a county-at-large charge and supplied only about 10 or 15 per cent. The figure varied from county to county. There was no agitation at that stage because the cost of supply had been got over a long number of years and it supplied only a small number of people. But when we embarked on more extensive rural water supply schemes, naturally the cost on the rates mounted immediately and precipitately and the agitation started.
It is probable that with the schemes we have in operation at present, there will be eventually an 80 per cent. or 85 per cent, coverage. At present, we are in a transitional phase. That is the most difficult period to be in. As every day passes, the costs are becoming larger and a decreasing number of people are expected to continue paying for a county-at-large charge and get nothing. There are certain sections of the population who appear to have a genuine grievance on this question of the county-at-large charge. They feel they should be personally exempted in whole or in part. First, there are those who in the past, with or without grant, installed their own water supply. Whether it is a small gravitational system or a pump, they are satisfied with it. They feel now it is unfair to ask them to contribute to a county-at-large charge for water which they personally do not need and which they may not elect to take.
These people present yet another difficulty. If they happen to have a pump which will last for another 15 years, they may decide, at the end of the 15 years, to take the gravitational county scheme. If they are exempted now and come in under the scheme at the end of 15 years, when it is half paid for, they may secure a certain benefit. That could possibly be got over by making them pay some subvention for the number of years during which they refused to avail of the local authority scheme.
Another large section who must be considered are those who will eventually be supplied, but not for, perhaps, 10 or 15 years. They argue: "We hope eventually to get a regional scheme in this area but, in the meantime, why should we, over the next ten years, be asked to pay for a scheme that is daily becoming more expensive on the rates?" The third section are those who are so geographically placed that they will never get a water supply scheme. They may be living on the side of a mountain. They may get a pump or a well. They will certainly have a genuine grievance, and quite correctly so, because their geographical position makes it impossible for them ever to have a water supply. These three sections have a legitimate grievance with regard to payment for a system which will fall eventually on the rates on a par with health from the point of view of expense.
At the moment our charges for water in South Tipperary are extremely low. The revenue we get in would just about barely cover maintenance. In fact, that policy has been pursued because it is regarded more or less as a social service. I am not quite sure what the Minister means when he mentions charges. If we charge on a commercial basis no one will take the water. In fact, even though the charges are so ridiculously low, we have been disappointed at the poor response in some areas. The position is improving a little but I thought originally, judging by the demand from certain areas, that there would be a tremendous appreciation of the service. The demand has been disappointing. In some areas people, whom one would expect to know better, just did not bother their heads to avail of an excellent gravitational scheme giving excellent water in 24 hours out of the 24.
The difficulty is that if one increases the charges to anything approaching a commercial figure one runs the risk of people refusing temporarily or permanently, to take water passing by their own doors. That would be very undesirable. I think everybody is anxious from the point of view of the general public, from the point of view of the eradication of bovine tuberculosis, from the point of view of agricultural production, and public health generally, that everyone should avail of what is a wonderful service, a service of which this country can be very proud. I doubt if even the United States of America could compare favourably with the effort we are making to give a water supply to our people in the rural areas.
Much of the difficulty that arises as between regional and group schemes is due to the figures which have been produced by private and semi-private bodies which have initiated group schemes, particularly group schemes on a gravitational basis. I might also point out that the E.S.B. see a great future in this. They, too, are producing figures which compare to our disadvantage. Their figures are based upon sinking pumps and supplying water through electrical power. When we started our regional schemes there was, of course, no such thing as rural electrification and we did not have to contend with this competition. Their figures really make it a little embarrassing for us with our regional schemes. The Department lays down a figure of £300 or £350 per installation as the limit they will sanction. In one of our regional schemes in Dundrum the cost per installation worked out at something like £500. That was sanctioned by the Department. Perhaps, that £500 represents an exaggerated picture because that scheme will have to be filled in later on. That figure represents only the initial skeleton outline. When the various subsidiaries are taken over the overall charge will be lower than £500, substantially lower I hope, and, perhaps, down to the £350 mark.
I would ask the Minister if he has given the matter of charging consideration. Does he mean to fix some figure between what one might describe as the social service charge to cover maintenance and the purely commercial charge, which would be prohibitive and would prevent anyone taking the water? Has he worked out any system of charging intermediate between the two figures, a system which would give some kind of relief to the three sections I have already mentioned? I want a figure that will be fair to them and, at the same time, not so prohibitive as to discourage those who can avail of the scheme.
With regard to air pollution, the section in the Bill is altogether too sweeping and too generalised. It could be dangerous. It is almost as nebulous as the subject with which it deals. It is a pity the Minister did not see fit to deal with air pollution in a separate measure. Many aspects are involved. Industry and public health generally enter into the picture. Such things as diesel fumes, waste from ships, radioactive fall out, the industrial risks of asbestosis, pneumonconiosis, silicosis, and all these, enter into the picture. What the Minister is asking for here is a kind of blank cheque under which regulations can be made. The regulations could be very sweeping, so sweeping that one feels it would be better if the Minister framed the provisions in more specific and less general terms in order to give the House an opportunity of discussing the matter item by item so that we may know exactly how far he is going and that he does not perchance again ask for a blank cheque and then proceed to draft regulations thereunder which may be unduly restrictive and may not be in general what the House desires.