Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 12 Dec 1934

Vol. 19 No. 8

Shannon Fisheries Bill, 1934—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The purpose of this Bill is to make provision for the acquisition of and the management by the Electricity Supply Board of the fisheries of the River Shannon. As Senators are aware, when the Shannon hydroelectric scheme was contemplated it was anticipated that certain damage would be done to the valuable fisheries of the Shannon and the Shannon Electricity Act provided for the payment of compensation to the owners of such fisheries whose property was damaged by the construction of the Shannon works. By what was an oversight, no provision was made for compensation where the damage arose through the operation of the works. That particular defect is made good by this Bill. The Electricity Supply Board is under obligation to pay various sums in compensation in respect of damage done to fisheries either by the construction or the operation of the Shannon works. It is further to be noted that because of the erection and the operation of the works certain changes have occurred in the river which will result in further damage to the fisheries unless various works are undertaken and various measures adopted in order to preserve the fisheries. Under these circumstances it was decided that it was necessary to bring all the fisheries of the Shannon under one control if they were to be preserved. It was also realised that only some person or some organisation having control of all the fisheries could plan the works necessary to preserve them and make the necessary provision for their maintenance.

The purpose of this Bill, therefore, is, firstly, to enable the Electricity Supply Board, where compensation is due by them to the owner of any fishery in respect of damage, in lieu of paying the compensation to acquire the fishery and, secondly, to enable them to acquire any other fishery on the Shannon that they wish to make subject to their control and management. The whole purpose of the Bill is really expressed in that sentence. The other parts of it provide for the management of the fisheries by the Electricity Supply Board and for the assessment of the amount of compensation to be paid to persons whose fisheries have been acquired. Special provision is made for additional compensation to be paid where the fishery was owned by persons who worked that fishery personally and depended upon it for a livelihood, having regard to the difficulty that might arise in their case of transferring themselves to any other place in the country where their particular skill as fishermen could be of value to them. Other portions of the Bill are of a miscellaneous nature. There is provision for the maintenance, through the weir at Parteen Villa, of a minimum flow of water of 10 cubic metres per second, which is the minimum amount necessary, we are advised, in order to preserve the fisheries in the river below the weir. There is a provision for the alteration of the weekly close season from 48 to 72 hours, which new close season, it is considered, will have to be maintained for some time in order to prevent the depletion of fish in the river.

It is proposed to restrict the issue of licences for fishing with drift or draft nets in the estuary to the number which was issued during the last few years. That is to enable those who were given licences to fish to continue to fish, but to prevent any addition to their number. It is also proposed to prohibit net fishing in the fresh waters of the Shannon except by persons who have been lawfully exercising the right to fish during the past 12 months. Such persons will be able to continue their right until that right has been purchased from them by the Electricity Supply Board. That is the whole purpose of the Bill. The only matter that may require explanation is the decision to place all the responsibility in this respect on the Electricity Supply Board. It was felt it would be most undesirable to have a rival authority created on the Shannon. To some limited extent the interests of the fishery owners are in conflict with the interests of the Electricity Supply Board and it would be inevitable, if a separate organisation was created for the purpose of acquiring and operating the fisheries, that at some stage they would come into conflict with the Electricity Supply Board. There is no objection in principle to giving the Board the ownership of the fisheries, the responsibility for managing them and empowering them to establish a separate organisation under their control for that purpose and setting out in specific terms in the Bill their obligations to maintain and develop the fisheries, to maintain the flow of water in the old river and so forth, so that the Shannon fisheries can be made in future what they undoubtedly are at present, that is, a very valuable national asset.

In connection with this Bill various extraneous matters have been raised in different quarters which really do not arise at all. The essential point is, first of all, that damage has been done to the fisheries for which compensation must be paid. It is proposed, instead of paying compensation, to buy the fisheries outright. It is proposed to enable the Electricity Supply Board to acquire any other fishing right that it considers necessary to acquire on the Shannon in order to enable it to embark upon various schemes to protect and develop the Shannon fisheries. It is proposed to permit certain fishing to continue upon the estuary, but to limit these licences for fishing with draft or drift nets to the number of persons who have been so fishing in the past. This is to prevent any substantial addition in consequence of the acquisition of fresh water fisheries by the Board. The compensation to be paid to fishery owners will be determined by the arbitrator appointed under the Acquisition of Land Acts and in accordance with the provision of the Acquisition of Land Acts, subject to an additional amount of compensation being paid where the owner of the fishery also worked it himself.

I do not know that there is any other point that need be mentioned at this stage. The Bill is probably one more for discussion in Committee than for discussion on Second Reading. The principle of the Bill is to secure the Electricity Supply Board in the ownership of these fisheries and impose on it the obligation of developing them in the belief that any alternative course will lead to the continued decline of the fisheries and, consequently, the loss of what is a potential national asset.

I think the Minister has not said all that he might have said on the Second Reading of this Bill. I think that one would like an explanation as to why this was not a Bill to amend the Shannon Electricity Act rather than a Shannon Fisheries Bill, because, in effect, what it does is to enlarge the powers of the Electricity Supply Board, and we have the Minister for Industry and Commerce explaining a Fisheries Bill while under an Electricity Supply Bill, I take it, we would have had the Minister for Fisheries. There seems to be a certain amount of cross purposes. It is the extension of the powers of the Board to manage and control the fisheries on the Shannon from the source to the sea, and this is done at a time when there is a fisheries inquiry going on. I should like to know from the Minister why this Bill, giving powers in regard to the control of fishing and the regulation of fishing to an Electricity Board, should be brought forward before we have had the report of the inquiry into the inland fisheries which is now in progress. It seems to me that the effect of this Bill is either to prejudice the findings of that inquiry or to make it impossible for that inquiry and the results of that inquiry to have any effect upon the Shannon fisheries.

If this Bill were intended to do what has been assumed—to make it possible for the Electricity Supply Board to get out of the difficulty of compensating those who claimed that they had been damaged by the operations of that scheme and to get out of it by taking over those fisheries—it would have been simple and we need not have had added to this Bill all these other propositions regarding the control of fisheries in different parts of the Shannon, and certainly not until we had had the report of the Commission. I think it is unfortunate that the Bill should have been introduced before we got the report of that Commission, as I take it that, so far as fisheries are concerned, what is desirable and reasonable in the matter of control and regulation of the different types of fishing, in respect of other rivers, would be desirable and reasonable in regard to the Shannon, but this gives the Electricity Supply Board the power to do for the Shannon things the effect on which of the report of the Inland Fisheries Commission we do not know. Consequently I think the Bill ought not to be pressed at this stage.

The Bill does rather more than the Minister has hinted at and while I am agreeing that there is need to have a single authority over the Shannon, I am not at all certain that the Electricity Supply Board should be the body, but even if it is, I think it should be set out in this Bill that it must set up another organisation, even if the Board itself has the final veto upon the acts of that other organisation. One is not so certain that the Electricity Supply Board, and the members of the Electricity Supply Board, are competent to manage fisheries because it is selected for another purpose. It is chosen because of its capacity in other respects and not for its capacity in respect of fisheries. I am not sure whether one could not make as good a case for the management by the Electricity Supply Board of the navigation on the Shannon as for the management of the fisheries and probably a much better case could be made for the management of the navigation than for the management of the fisheries.

There are smaller matters that, perhaps, may have to be raised, but it might be no harm to give the Minister a hint as to one or two of them that will have to be raised on Committee Stage. One finds in Section 6 that the Minister for Industry and Commerce may transfer to the Board, that is, the Electricity Supply Board, whatever rights he has under the Act of 1925. There is no question of compensation from the Board to the Minister or to the State for that transfer, but under Section 7, the Office of Public Works, which is another part of the Government, also has power to transfer to the Board its rights in regard to fisheries. The Minister for Finance there, however, has made quite sure that there will be some recompense. I should like the Minister to explain why there should be that distinction. Then, I come to a point about which I am not quite sure. It is as to whether Section 7 is in order at present unless there are the limitations referred to by Article 11 of the Constitution.

A much more important matter from my point of view arises in connection with the miscellaneous part of the Bill. It deals with prohibitions in respect to fishing with snap nets in the tidal waters—it is an absolute prohibition— and with prohibitions in respect to fishing with nets in the fresh waters.

This question affects a body of men known as the Abbey Guild which the Minister has heard about. They have made a considerable noise and, I think, have very rightly made a considerable noise in respect to the possible effects of this Bill, and it surprises me that the Ministry should have agreed to the elimination of this institution of Abbey fishermen, because that is, in effect, what is aimed at by this part of the Bill. This is a body which has been in existence for centuries. It consists of a group of families which have had certain rights in respect to the fishing, both in the fresh waters and in the tidal waters of the River Shannon. At present, I think it is composed of about 50 fishermen who have these rights from time immemorial, and they have these properties in the fisheries in their particular area. They have depended upon fishing with nets in the fresh waters and with snap nets in the tidal waters—four miles in the fresh waters and four miles in the tidal waters. This Bill, as drafted—and I presume the first draft of the Bill that was circulated, really indicates the intentions of the bodies concerned, that is, the Electricity Supply Board and perhaps, the Fisheries Department —prohibited fishing in fresh water with nets and in tidal waters with snap nets, that is to say, this body of fishermen with rights coming down for centuries, ratified by Parliament, ratified by custom and ratified by everything that could be brought into operation, was to be destroyed utterly by the operation of this Bill, and, as originally proposed, without compensation. Some amendments have been made and the Minister has told us that in respect to owners of fishery rights who not only own the property in the fisheries, but earn their living by personal activities in those fisheries, they are to have an additional compensation if their rights are taken over. The question of compensation for injuries does not arise here, but the question of the price to be paid for these fishery rights does arise. I am not sure whether the prohibition of Section 22, which will be an Act of this House, will entitle this body of fishermen to any compensation at all. I think not, so that a large part of the livelihood of this group of fishermen will be taken from them by this Act without any compensation coming to them. In regard to the question of fresh water fishing they are allowed, because they have been fishing within the last 12 months, to continue that until the Electricity Board takes over their rights to fish. When they take over those rights the Electricity Supply Board will be obliged to pay certain compensation to be fixed by an arbitrator if they cannot arrive at an amicable agreement. But with all the generosity that the Minister has attempted to exert in the drafting of the amendment which was inserted in the Dáil, regarding this extra compensation, he has not by any means met the equities of the case because the deprivation of a man's property is usually assessed on the basis of the net profit; that is, the profit after expenses have been paid.

In the case of these men there is not only the profit due to their ownership but there are the earnings which are the wages of their labour, and while it is said that the deprivation of these earnings as workers will be taken into account there is no possibility, as I see it, of any compensation due to this guild, as a guild, for their sons who are coming on and who have naturally expected to take up the work which their fathers, their grandfathers and their great-great-great-grandfathers have followed. One is surprised at the attitude of the Minister in this matter, in view of the tendency towards a revival of mediæval practices in industry—the establishment of guilds, for instance. Here you have a body of men who, as I say, have been working for centuries as an organisation, a continuing body, consisting today of about 50 people who are working and earning a living by this right. It is now proposed, in the interests of the Electricity Supply Board, to take away from them those rights and these opportunities of earning a livelihood and continuing that right to their sons. It is not continuing a right to draw from the fishery a profit rent, but a right to continue earning, a right to work at fishing, and I think there is more than the simple compensation that is suggested in Section 23, as amended, due to those people, if that right is to be taken away.

On the assumption that what is intended is to give to the Electricity Supply Board the opportunity to get out of a difficulty which a continuous succession of claims for compensation for damage could put upon them, by taking over the property in the fishing, I think the Minister should agree that the right of the Electricity Supply Board in the matter should only be exercised, and exercisable, in cases in which claims for compensation had been submitted. If these fishermen and others like them put in a claim for compensation, because of injuries, then the Electricity Supply Board ought to have the right to take them over rather than to pay compensation, but if no claim for compensation is submitted, then it seems to me just and reasonable that the rights that these people have exercised in the past should continue unless other reasons than those that have been adduced are submitted.

It is said that damage has been done to the fisheries. I think the Minister said in the Dáil that the fears in regard to damage were apparently not going to be fulfilled.

I think it is really questionable whether any permanent damage is directly traceable to the electricity supply scheme. I am not sure that the fishermen concerned, or other fishery owners, will agree with that. Most of them, I daresay, have put in claims for compensation or, at least, have asserted that they ought to be compensated, but such figures as are available,—that is to say, the figures for 1927/29 and 1931—do not prove at all that there has been permanent damage done to the fisheries of the Shannon since that year. 1927 was an extraordinarily good year, not only on the Shannon but on the other rivers. 1929 was a bad year, only half as good as 1927, but the year 1931 rose to three-quarters as good as the best year for many years. I do not know what the Minister can say in regard to the year 1933.

What does the Senator mean by "rose"?

By the number of fish caught: the number of lbs. of fish on the records as submitted by the Department.

Fewer fish escaped in spawning.

The Minister is now going into the realm of theory and talks of the fish that escaped in spawning. I am talking about the fish that were caught. If the Minister gets into talking about the causes or changes in the quantity of fish caught, he will find himself in an awful ravel because there are as many theories in regard to salmon as there are in regard to herrings and mackerel, and there are as many experts and scientific propositions in regard to the causes of the decline and rise in the quantities going into particular rivers or seas. So that it is better that the Minister should not be too confident as to what are the causes of any changes in the capture of fish in the Shannon or other rivers.

I come back to the point that if the Minister is thinking of regulating the fisheries in the interests of the fisheries he surely ought to wait—and this House ought to ask that he should wait—until the report of the Inland Fisheries Commission is presented so that we shall know exactly where we are. To bring this Bill in now in regard to the chief river in the country is, undoubtedly, either to prejudice the Commission or to ask us to assume that the Minister knows what the Commission is going to report, and I think that either of these propositions is damaging to the Minister's reputation for the conduct of affairs in this House.

I am not going to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, because I think it is desirable that there should be a single authority to co-ordinate the work and to bring the various interests into some kind of harmony. I am not by any means enamoured of handing over this power, because it is a tremendous power, to the Electricity Supply Board. If the Electricity Supply Board are to exercise it, I think they should be required to set up a separate organisation of people who are actually concerned in the fisheries and not leave it to any electricity board. There are people on the Electricity Board interested in the salmon fisheries, and, by the way, it is interesting to note that the representative of one of the largest interests who will have a property to sell is also a member of the Board which will be buying, but that is merely incidental. I think, in any case, that there should be a definite amendment inserted in the Bill requiring the Board to set up a separate organisation to manage the fisheries even if the Electricity Board retains the final say in the policy of that organisation. Apart from that, I would ask the Minister if he would not consider waiting until the report of the Inland Fisheries Commission is presented before legislating in regard to the purely fisheries side of the Shannon.

The Bill deals with a variety of subjects. It deals with the question of compensation in respect to the injuries caused to the Shannon. It deals with that and with matters relating purely to the fisheries. I do not think that the two things should be embodied in the same Bill while we are waiting for a report from the Commission that has been set up specifically to enquire into that subject.

I would say that the Minister must have as much information about these Shannon fisheries and the injury done by the Electricity Supply Board as is available to any Commission, and for that reason I think we ought not to delay the passing of this measure. I am greatly disturbed by what Senator Johnson has said in reference to the Abbey fishermen. I have heard of these Abbey fishermen and of litigation in connection with their rights for the past 30 years. There is also another class of fishermen at Castleconnell. I think that their interests and their just claims ought to be adequately dealt with if they are not adequately dealt with under this measure. I, myself, thought, when reading the Bill, that full provision was made for the Abbey fishermen. When the Minister said, in the course of his statement, that a certain number of licences were to be issued, I understood that to mean that he was preserving certain rights of certain fishermen who are earning a livelihood in the estuary of the river. Fisheries and all that relate to them are a greater source of litigation, discontent and quarrelling than any other branch of human activity.

Except land.

Not excepting land and, certainly, not excepting the fisheries on the River Shannon, of which I have had considerable experience. What occurs to me is this: that under this measure it appears that the Electricity Supply Board, the parties who will be alleged to have caused the injury, are the very persons who will measure the damages. Now, they may be angels, but whatever decision they give will not be accepted by the Abbey fishermen or any other fishermen on the Shannon.

That is not the position.

That is what I understood from Senator Johnson.

There will be an arbitrator.

There may be an arbitrator appointed, but, in addition to that, you have this further consideration: that the person who alleges that he is injured, and applies for compensation, will apply for compensation under the shadow of the threat that his fishery will be acquired. I do not think that I am wrong in that any more than I am not wrong on the other point, because, taking the view of the fishermen, he will regard the arbitrator in the very same light as he would regard the Electricity Supply Board. Therefore, I am only pointing out the absolute necessity of convincing the fisherman that his claim will be settled by an absolutely impartial person. That is necessary. I do not say at all that the Electricity Supply Board, or the arbitrator, will not be perfectly honest, but it is necessary to convince the fisherman that the authority before which his claim goes is an absolutely impartial authority. It will be hard to convince him. However, that is a matter which I am sure the Minister has fully considered.

When I read this Bill I thought it was a very thorough measure, but I am disturbed by what Senator Johnson has said, particularly in regard to the Abbey fishermen. If there is any doubt on the point that the Abbey fishermen, if their fisheries are taken over, are to get compensation not merely for the right, as an abstract right, but for the loss of employment, you will have serious discontent in Limerick City. I do not know that I ought to say anything more. I took this measure as meaning that the Electricity Supply Board would take over complete control of the Shannon fisheries and run them as one big concern. If they do that, or if they take over any particular fishery and let it again then I hope they will have due regard to the persons who have been employed in the fishery before it was acquired, that is, the people fishing for eels, salmon and other things above the weirs at Castleconnell and of the men fishing on the lower reaches of the Shannon in the estuary above Limerick. I would like very much that their interests should be fully examined, because I have seen a tremendous amount of litigation in reference to the fisheries in the waters where these Abbey fishermen earn their living.

The Minister has stated that this is a Bill which will lend itself to more satisfactory discussion on the Committee Stage. That, I think, is so. To secure proper investigation when we get to that stage, and to know what to do in the meanwhile, it is necessary that the House should know exactly what the purport of the Bill is, what it means to do, and what its limitations are. The Minister has told us that the principle of the Bill is to secure to the Electricity Supply Board the whole ownership of the Shannon fisheries. I should like to ask several questions which I think is the easiest way of dealing with the matter and which will enable me and others to know what to do on the Committee Stage. Does the Bill apply only to waters vested in the Board or does it apply to the River Shannon, its tributaries, its confluents, lakes and head waters hundreds of miles back, because these are two different things? That is to say, does it involve the abolition of all ownership of fisheries in the Shannon area, other than by the Electricity Supply Board? If I had from the Minister information on these points, I should know better how to approach the Bill. I confess that, although I have read it as carefully as I am capable of doing, there did seem to me to be certain contradictory elements in the Bill. These are important questions and I shall repeat them. Does the Bill apply only to waters invested in the Board or does it apply to all waters of the whole Shannon system? Thirdly, does it involve the abolition of all private ownership?

I confess that I am very jealous of the Shannon electricity scheme which I defended so much in the beginning and which now gradually seems to be swallowing up everything that comes in its way. The old Shannon drainage scheme was swallowed up and now the fisheries are to be swallowed up. Goodness knows what is going to happen next. The fisheries are a very important asset to a great many people in this country. A great deal of money goes into them and they give a great deal of employment, and I confess I should like some assurance as to their future. It would be difficult, I imagine, to get any such assurance when handing over the fisheries to a Department that does not know anything about fishing. I think there should be a separate body who would control the fisheries if they have to be handed over to the Electricity Supply Board, who have already altogether too much to do. They began in a very small way, and I think we should be very careful in this matter.

I should like to support Senator Johnson's suggestion that this Bill be postponed until the findings of the Fishery Commission, which is now sitting and of which I am a member, are made known. I do so because of the fact that I believe this Bill is brought in to hand over at a rather inopportune moment the largest river and the most important fishery or potential fishery, that could possibly exist in these islands. I think that it is an admission that the Electricity Supply Board and its works have practically destroyed the fisheries on the River Shannon. I believe that there is a considerable volume of well-informed opinion which is of the belief that if the Shannon were developed as a fishery to the extent of which it is capable, it would be more important, as an asset to the nation, than even the generating of electricity. However that may be, we must all recognise in the Shannon fisheries immense potentialities in regard to the development of the fishery industry of this country, a means of producing a very valuable commodity for export, and a means of attracting tourists to the country. The fact is that under this Bill, this whole vast stretch of water is to be handed over to a body which is not primarily concerned with fisheries, and whose greatest concern is the development of electricity.

I notice in Section 8, Part III of the Act, the following:

In addition, but subject and without prejudice to, the primary function of maintaining, working, and developing the Shannon hydro-electric works under and in pursuance of the Act of 1927, as amended or extended by subsequent legislation, the Board shall have and perform the duty of managing, conducting and preserving the Shannon fisheries under and in accordance with this Act.

Other sections of the Bill enable the Board to acquire every fishing right on the Shannon where they have a grievance, because of the activities of the Electricity Supply Board. Whether the fishery has been injured or not injured, the Bill would give them power to acquire these fisheries, to develop them in the interests of the country or to neglect them in the interests of electricity whichever would seem to them the more appropriate course.

Senator Johnson has referred to the Abbey fishermen. In the Abbey fishermen we have a body of individuals comprised of small farmers and labourers drawn from about 60 families who have certain rights on the freshwater portion of the river. I think it is one of the very few cases in Ireland where that is permitted. These families have, in the course of time, formed a guild or corporation. There are certain well-recognised rights regarding succession and the right to fish in that particular stretch of the river. They also argue that they have a right to go down and fish in the tidal portion of the river in the estuary. They have been prejudiced to some extent in that by decisions given in the law courts from time to time. However, they maintain that they have the right to fish in the estuary, the tidal portion of the Shannon. This Bill, as originally drafted, would absolutely wipe out these men's rights. It would deny them the right of fishing at all in the freshwater portion of the river, but owing to an amendment which was inserted in the Dáil and which is now contained in Section 23, these men's rights seem to be recognised, but even though it is recognised that they can fish legally, in that freshwater portion of the river, the Bill still gives the Electricity Supply Board the right to purchase them out, willy-nilly, whether they like it or not. That seems to me a great hardship because there is no evidence as far as I have been able to gather to prove that this particular exigency exists.

These people say that they are quite prepared to go on fishing as they fished for generations back, as they fished back to the time of the siege of Limerick in 1690 or 1691. It seems rather an extraordinary thing that those men should be deprived of a right which they have exercised so long, a right which they have controlled and kept within reasonable limits. There is no evidence to show that the fishing of the river in the freshwater portion of it by those men has resulted in any diminution of the quantity of fish in the Shannon. They have a well-defined system by which each four persons, in virtue of the position in which they live, and by virtue of a right inherited from their forefathers, are entitled to fish. I am assured that it takes four of them to form a boat crew, and that if there are only three available for a boat they will not be allowed to fish or will not be allowed to take an outsider. Each individual fishing that portion of the river must be a descendant or a son of a fisherman who enjoyed the right before him. I think in this case we have a number of men who deserve very careful consideration before we agree to a measure which would absolutely put the fishery in the hands of the Electricity Supply Board, which is not a fishing body and which was not constituted for the purpose of developing fishing or safeguarding it. We would put in their hands the lives and the fortunes of a number of men such as I have described, the Abbey fishermen.

I am not arguing against the rights or the wrongs of freshwater fishing by net. These Abbey fishermen fish by snap nets, which are nets about 21 feet in length, operated between two boats. This Bill prohibits their using these nets in the tidal portion of the river. In Section 23 the Bill admits their legal right but at the same time retains for the Electricity Supply Board the right to take over particular portions of the river and so deprive these men of a means of livelihood. The Bill also provides systems by which they may get reasonable compensation. Considering that all those peculiar and unfortunate situations arise under this Bill, I, as a member of the Comsion which is sitting at the present time and which, I believe, will report at the furthest within the next three or four months, would like to support Senator Johnson's suggestion to the Minister, to withdraw this Bill for the time being or to delay the passage of it until such time as the report of the Inland Fisheries Commission, is submitted, so that an opportunity would be given to them and to this House to try to reconcile the provisions of this Bill with its recommendations.

It would not be possible for the Government to agree to this Bill being withdrawn until the Inland Fisheries Commission had submitted its report. The necessity for legislation of this kind has been outstanding for a long time. A committee of representatives of the various departments interested met over four years ago to consider the position that had arisen in respect to the Shannon fisheries and submitted a recommendation to the Government then in office for the enactment of legislation which, in broad outline, was similar to that now before the Seanad. A Bill was introduced by the last Government in the Dáil and it reached a certain stage in that House when the general election occurred and the Bill was cancelled thereby. On coming into office the present Government directed that the matter should be further examined and another committee was established which, throughout 1932 and 1933, went into the matter in great detail again and submitted a report which again recommended that the only possible manner of dealing with the Shannon fishery problem was to secure a uniform ownership and control and that it was best to vest that ownership in the Electricity Supply Board.

The situation, therefore, is, as some Senators are aware, one which is gradually becoming worse. I stated in the Dáil that as yet there was no evidence that the operation of the Shannon electricity works had reduced the run of fish in the river, but it is a matter of grave doubt as to what happens to the fish that enter the river. A great number enter the tail race and it is not quite clear what happens those that do. Others make their way up the old river, where the flow of water is considerably reduced and they have to run the gauntlet of the Abbey fishermen who, whatever difficulty they may have had in taking fish in the old days when there was plenty of water, have now very little difficulty in catching whatever salmon they want as the fish are making their way up the reduced river that is now flowing.

There is need for works and these works must be undertaken if the fish are to ascend the river to the spawning beds, and if the fish do not get up to the spawning beds the Shannon fisheries are going to be destroyed for a long number of years. Senators are probably aware that any reduction in the amount of spawn produced in the river will not be immediately noticeable. It takes a year or two for the young fish to get out to the sea and they remain at sea for a few years before they come back again to the river. In such circumstances it is only very gradually that the deterioration of the fishing would be evident. Last year, owing to the drought and the depletion in the flow of the water, the spawning beds themselves became exposed, the birds fed upon the ova and immense damage was done to the fisheries. In addition to that, there is the complication created by the fact that claims for compensation are arising and they must be met, leaving the problem entirely unsolved after the expenditure of a large sum of money, or else substituted for by the payment of the acquisition prices proposed in this Bill.

This Bill is not proposed for the purpose of getting the Electricity Supply Board out of a dilemma. It is a wrong idea that the Electricity Supply Board wanted this measure or that they were enthusiastic on the subject of being given control of the Shannon fisheries. I am quite certain that the electricians and the engineers and those responsible for carrying on the Shannon electricity works had rather an antipathy to these additional functions being conferred on the Board. But the Board is itself an organisation created and owned by the State and there is no more difference in giving the ownership of these fisheries to that semi-State institution than there would be in giving them to the State itself.

Only Parliament has no right to criticise or control.

In any event an expert body has to carry out the functions of the Electricity Supply Board.

Is it obligatory?

It is obligatory in common sense. It is the obvious thing for the Board to do. The only practical alternative to giving over the ownership of these fisheries to the Electricity Supply Board is for the State to acquire them themselves and establish another organisation. There would be no obligation on the State to establish that other organisation, but it would be the obvious thing to do. You would then have two rival authorities on the Shannon, each operating perhaps to the detriment of the other. It is the opinion of those who went into the matter with great thoroughness that you can secure all the advantages of nationalisation as regards the fisheries and develop the hydro-electric scheme by conferring the ownership on the Electricity Supply Board and charging them primarily with the function of operating and developing the hydro-electric scheme, and secondarily with the function of developing the fisheries. You can in that way secure the full benefit for the nation of the potentialities of the Shannon from the point of view of electricity and fishery development.

The matter referred to by Senator Johnson in respect to Sections 6 and 7 is something that we can discuss in Committee. In brief, the fisheries which the Minister for Industry and Commerce owns as a result of acquiring stretches of the river during the construction period are of no value, and in giving them to the Electricity Supply Board we are not giving them much. But the fisheries which the Commissioners of Public Works own are in some cases of very considerable value indeed and it is quite right that the Electricity Supply Board should have charged against it the capital value of such fisheries.

The case has been made here that the Abbey fishermen should be allowed to remain undisturbed. That is completely impossible—at least not impossible, but if we were to allow them to remain undisturbed the whole Bill would have to be dropped; the whole idea of developing the Shannon fisheries or having unified control would have to be abandoned. The Abbey fishermen are in the key position. They command a very valuable stretch of fisheries on the fresh water immediately above the tail race and if they are to remain in existence and be allowed to continue to exercise their very liberal rights of fishing— they have a right to fish by day and by night and they have other facilities nobody else possesses—if they are allowed to fish in that manner all question of developing the fisheries in the manner which the experts consider necessary will have to be abandoned. We all have sympathy with the Abbey men and because of that we are inclined to treat them as generously as possible, to pay them, not merely full compensation for the acquisition of property, but also for the loss of their employment, even taking into account the fact that the employment was not merely for the present members of that community but for their sons and grandsons. Our obligation is limited to giving that generous treatment. I do not think we should allow our sympathy to get us into the position that Senator Johnson has got into, where he claims that the existence of an immemorial right to property even if held by some people who work that property for a livelihood, is to be advanced as an argument against what is, in fact, the nationalisation of these fisheries in order to increase their value and secure their operation for the benefit of the community as a whole.

Snap netting on the tidal waters has not been resorted to for some years. There has been no such licence issued for many years past. In 1927 there were two such licences issued. All the fishing has been by the draft or the drift nets and, in so far as they are concerned, we are proposing to authorise the number of licences equal to the number issued in 1934 and 1933. Nobody who has been engaged in getting a livelihood from fishing with draft or drift nets in tidal waters is going to be deprived of it, but there is going to be no addition to the numbers engaged. People up the river who are going to be compensated for their fisheries, as we hope generously, cannot subsequently come to the tidal waters and destroy the whole scheme by over-fishing that portion. There is no question that the Shannon is over-fished. There are too many engines and nets permitted in the estuary and there is too much fishing in the fresh water. The value of the fisheries has been depleted on that account. Any expert on fisheries will tell you what very valuable national asset these fisheries could be made. Senator Duffy referred to that when he said that the Shannon could be made more valuable as a fishery than as a means of developing electricity. That can be done only on the basis of completely eliminating all the existing instruments for taking fish out of the river and concentrating your fisheries in one particular place under competent management, or getting as near as possible to that position. As regards the Abbey fishermen, this immemorial right they have had has to be terminated in this generation if the Shannon fisheries are to be developed. Our proposal is to give them not merely similar compensation to that which other fishery owners will secure under the Bill, but to give them additional compensation based on their loss of employment. I am inclined to be as generous as it is possible for us to be in determining the basis on which that compensation is to be assessed.

Does the Minister say the Electricity Supply Board will take over all these fishing rights so that they may concentrate all the rights into one and leave that one a private institution?

No. The fisheries of the Shannon are defined in Section 2. They include the whole of the Shannon and the tributaries, right from the source to the sea. The Bill does not transfer all the fisheries to the Board. It enables the Board to acquire them compulsorily if it thinks it necessary to do so. It is quite possible that the Electricity Supply Board would not be interested in the fisheries in some of the tributaries flowing into the estuary. They may confine their activities to the Shannon itself, but that is a matter that they will have to be guided upon by their advisers. The intention is that a subsidiary company should be formed which would exercise for the Electricity Supply Board the functions of management.

Will the Minister say whether it is possible that the Abbey fishermen and all those other separate rights may be taken over by the Electricity Supply Board and, let us say, be left in the hands of the Lax weir owners?

It is possible under the Bill as framed, but it is not the intention. The intention is that all the private owners on that portion of the river are likely to be removed forthwith and the fisheries there concentrated in the Electricity Supply Board. It is there that the works to develop the fisheries are most urgently required. The fact that a gentleman who was a manager of one of the most important fisheries on the Shannon is a member of the Electricity Supply Board has little bearing on this except that there is on the Electricity Supply Board one member, at any rate, who is probably the best authority we could have upon the Shannon fisheries. It does not affect the situation because of the fact that the Electricity Supply Board will be acquiring that particular property. The Board will acquire the property on the basis determined by the arbitrator, who will be appointed under the Acquisition of Land Acts.

It is not correct, as Senator Duffy said, that the Shannon works are destroying the fisheries. The Shannon works have, undoubtedly, destroyed some of the fisheries and interfered with the river to a considerable extent, but it was not the construction or the operation of the Shannon works alone which had the bad effect on the fisheries, but the existence of these works, plus the fact that everybody who was making a livelihood by fishing on the river continued to endeavour to get the same livelihood by fishing on the river. You had, therefore, on the river itself, and particularly upon the fresh waters of the river between the weir and the tailrace, an undue amount of fishing, which made it impossible for the spawning fish to get up and lay their ova. I think that most of the other matters that were raised had better be discussed in Committee. There are a number of sections in the Bill which may require elaboration before their meaning is quite clear, but if the matter comes up on Committee, I shall endeavour to give all possible information on the point.

The one thing I wish to stress now is that it is regarded as essential to the future of the Shannon fisheries that this change over should take place now, and, particularly, that the change over should take place in the form contemplated by this Bill, so that we will have the position, which we consider to be the most practicable in the circumstances, created, namely, a position in which all the fisheries, or most of the fisheries, will be in the hands of a semi-State institution and managed, preserved and developed by it, having regard to the other obligation of maintaining and developing the hydro-electric works at the same time, without producing a conflict of interest and to produce that position on the basis of adequate compensation to the private interests affected. That is the whole purpose of the Bill. There are certain other provisions embodied in it, some of which affect purely fishery concerns and which should perhaps be defended by the Minister for Fisheries rather than the Minister for Industry and Commerce, but they are only incidental to the main scheme which I have outlined.

Mr. Bagwell rose.

I cannot allow another speech, Senator.

I am compelled to say that I am exactly as wise as I was when I asked the question, and no wiser. What I wish to know, and the question I asked and which was not answered at all, is whether it is proposed under this Bill that the Electricity Supply Board shall acquire the ownership of all the thousands of miles which constitute the water system of the Shannon?

That has been answered.

The Bill empowers them to do so.

How is it going to be paid for, or is it going to be done entirely by confiscation, because this is one of the biggest financial matters that have come before this House since this country became independent?

It is proposed, to enable the Electricity Supply Board to acquire these fisheries compulsorily, on the basis of the payment of the amount of compensation, determined, in each case, by an arbitrator who will be one of the arbitrators appointed under the Acquisition of Land Acts.

Then is it the intention, because, I presume, this question is in order——

No question is in order. The debate is closed, but I should like to allow you to ask it, with the permission of the House, as it is a very important question.

No; I suppose I am out of order.

Am I to understand that this subject is now closed; that this is the debate which is settling this question and that we are not allowed to say a word?

No; under Standing Orders you cannot say another word.

And this is the final closing of the Second Reading debate on a Bill of this weight?

Absolutely, Senator. The Minister closed the debate finally. Those are my orders.

All I can say is that the rules under which we are acting must be sadly deficient in some way, because I have never known a Bill— and in this I quite agree with Senator Bagwell and Senator Duffy—which affected so many rights and such great values. This Seanad has disposed of the whole thing in an hour's discussion. The Minister is on the right track in a great many respects—I heard him say several perfectly sound fishing things— but there is a tremendous lot that ought to be discussed on the Second Reading. Yet this House is satisfied to take the debate we have had. The Chairman is allowing me to say more than I ought to, but the rule which makes it necessary to discuss such a huge subject in an hour's debate astounds me.

There is a right——Senator Johnson alluded to it, and so did another Senator—by which a Senator can move the adjournment of the debate to any day he likes.

Might I suggest that a packed House apparently decided that the matter was in very capable hands, when it was in the hands of the Minister, and that they did not think it worth their while to stay and debate the question? As a result of that action, the Minister was called on to close the debate. I think it most unreasonable to raise this matter now.

What does the Senator think is unreasonable?

The Senator had an opportunity of discussing the question and he did not do so, and neither did his friends on that side.

What I said was that it was unreasonable to raise that argument now, when everybody had an opportunity of discussing the question. The people had gone away, apparently satisfied that the matter was in proper hands in the hands of the Minister, and that he would be able to handle it properly.

I do not like discussing this matter, but, as a matter of fact, I waited the whole afternoon with everything ready. The Bill was down for discussion, but was put off, probably to suit the Minister. I was called away and was able to get in only in the middle of the discussion. However, I do not want to raise that question at all. I am deprecating the fact that a Bill of this sort should go through in such a rapid way. There are a good many things I could say, but the Chairman is perfectly right in ruling us out of order. All I say is that our arrangements for managing the business of the House are sadly breaking down.

On a point of order, is that the procedure of the House? Is the debate closed now and by what Standing Order?

The procedure of the House is that on a Second Reading debate, when apparently everybody has spoken, I call on the Minister to close the debate. I have called on the Minister to close it and the debate is closed. That is the position of affairs. It was within your competency, any of you, to move that the question that the Bill be read a Second Time be taken two years hence, a year hence, a month hence, a fortnight hence, or this day week, but nobody chose to do that. Senator Johnson knew it quite well, I think, but he did not want to do it.


Question put and declared carried.

When will we take the Committee Stage?

This seems to me to be a case in which a Select Committee might be set up. Again, I do not think there is any necessity for a long delay and, in fact, I would hope there would not be, but we do need the information that is available to the Minister. He has spoken of departmental committees, but so far as I know there has been no report and there would not be a report of a departmental committee. I am satisfied that there is need for examination of the principles of this Bill and that information should be made available. With a view to sounding the House as to whether a Select Committee on this Bill should be set up, I would formally move that that course be taken.

I think that what Senator Johnson says is quite unreasonable. There are really only two points that were discussed. The first question was the measure of compensation in regard to the Abbey fishermen in respect of their fishing rights that were to be acquired and, the second, the tribunal that was to determine the amount of compensation. There was also the question of whether the fishery was to be acquired or not. Surely, these can be dealt with on Committee Stage?

Senator Johnson, do you propose that motion?

I move that motion, but I should like to hear some views on the matter. I do not want to press it against the views of the House at all.

I think that ordinary Committee discussion would suffice, but I think a little time ought to be given because the scope of the Bill is enormously greater than most of us realised. I think if it were held over until after Christmas we would have time to look into it and to prepare any amendments we think necessary.

I am prepared to give adequate time.

Committee Stage ordered for the first sitting after the New Year.
The Seanad adjourned at 6.30 until Wednesday, December 19th, at 3 o'clock.