I assume that members of the Seanad have familiarised themselves with this Fergus Drainage Bill. It is, like the annals of the poor, short and simple and has been debated in the Dáil without arousing any antagonism. The purpose of the Bill, as I pointed out in the Dáil, is to enable the Minister for Finance, the Commissioners of Public Works and the county councils for Clare and Galway to give effect to the terms of a consent which arose out of a settlement of a legal action. This legal action was taken by certain proprietors of lands in the Fergus drainage district. They sought compensation for damage done because of breaches in the embankment of the Fergus. The consent, as I said, arose out of a legal action where a certain decision was given and the judge asked the parties not to pursue the action to its conclusion as it would be rather costly. He asked them to come together and have a discussion of the matter. The consent arising out of the discussion was made a Rule of Court and it is to meet the conditions arising out of that that this Bill is brought before the Seanad.
The Fergus is, like a lot of other Irish rivers, a rather difficult proposition to tackle, and downstream of Ennis it is a doubly embanked stream. As long as we have had any knowledge of the Fergus, breaches have been occurring in the embankments and moneys were spent at various times since 1924 in trying to put matters right. Apparently about 1930, it seemed as if success had been finally achieved in controlling the flooding in the district, and at that time the Minister for Local Government and Public Health made an Order transferring the maintenance to the Clare and Galway County Councils. About the time the Order was being put into force a further breach occurred in the embankments. The county council, on the advice of their county surveyor, refused to accept the charge of maintenance. The legal action then resulted. At that particular time also a further breach occurred in the embankments and a special examination was made of the soil and the sub-soil. At varying depths under the surface there was found to be a bed of shell marl which, apparently, was penetrated by water when the high tides and high floods came along together. The weight of water seemed to bore through the bed of shell marl and came out at the weakest point in the embankments, causing the breaches.
Many people criticise arterial drainage and the results of it, and there will be a Bill which will deal generally with arterial drainage in the near future. My predecessor in office at one time said that people are generally very vocal about the benefits to be achieved by arterial drainage but are not at all vocal about its benefits when the job is done and somebody has to pay. That difficulty, of course, did arise in regard to the Fergus. There was not any difficulty in the Dáil about the Bill. It was not received with any adverse criticism. Apparently, some members of the Dáil seemed to be under the impression that, in dealing with the Fergus, we were creating a precedent whereby other rivers throughout the country might be dealt with in a somewhat similar fashion. This Bill does not create a precedent. It merely enables the Minister for Finance, the county councils and the Board of Works to do a certain work, the outcome of a settlement in a legal action. This legislation cannot be regarded as a precedent to be applied to any river throughout the country. All other rivers needing attention will have to be done under the Arterial Drainage Act, which will probably come before the Seanad for discussion in the very near future. I do not think there is anything more I have to say. It is a very simple Bill that has one special purpose.