Arterial Drainage Bill, 1944—Second Stage (Resumed).

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

I was dealing last night with three sections about which some doubt had been expressed and I was trying to explain what was aimed at by those sections. I gave the House the number of districts in existence; I gave the House the number for the proper maintenance of which the county councils are at this moment legally responsible, and I gave the number that would, as a result of Section 23, be transferred to them for maintenance in the future, with the proviso that these councils would be protected from any legal action, or would not be obliged legally to maintain those districts in a better state of repair than that in which they had been handed over.

Section 29 enables us to serve notice upon a local authority where we are satisfied the local authority has not been discharging its obligations. But, if that power is given to us in Section 29, it is only power which enables us to make those local authorities discharge their legal obligations in so far as the 133 districts for which they are now responsible are concerned, and discharge their responsibility also in relation to the districts that are being transferred to them under Section 23. In relation to the districts that are being transferred to them under Section 23, we cannot call upon those councils to maintain those districts at a higher state of repair than could the riparian owners, the people whose lands are being drained. Section 37 more or less gives the drainage authority the same sort of protection as is provided for the local authority under Section 23, where, in the case of an application being made by the drainage authority for the transfer of a district for maintenance purposes to our organisation, we are obliged to maintain up to the proper legal standard, and no more. I cannot see that there is anything in these three sections that is not necessary or that could possibly be abused or used for the purpose of imposing upon the local authorities concerned any hardship whatsoever.

Senator Baxter referred to Section 57, which deals with districts partially within and partially outside this State. Although the Drainage Commission felt they were not in a position to deal with this matter, we naturally had to find some solution for the two districts which are affected— the lower Lough Erne and the Ballymore and Ballyconnell. We immediately realised the benefits which would accrue to other districts, from the point of view of their future maintenance, inasmuch as those other districts transferred under Section 23 would be maintained in future, not on the basis of a local rate but on the basis of a county rate; and we felt that something must be done in order to confer on the people in those districts, who are at the moment under the jurisdiction of this State, the same benefits as the riparian owners in other districts enjoy. As a result, Section 57 appears in this measure.

There are no means by which we could have legislated for the transference of those districts, seeing that we have no jurisdiction in portion of the area affected. All we have aimed at here, and all we are securing by Section 57, is that the riparian owners in Cavan and Leitrim will have refunded to them whatever drainage rate they may be called upon in the future to pay. It does not in any case tie our hands as to any future activity, in so far as new works are concerned; but, of course, our hands are tied inasmuch as, after the examination of this matter by experts, we have been informed that it is impossible to tackle either of the drainage problems presented there without the co-operation of the Northern Ireland authorities.

Senator Baxter may not be aware that, some time ago, this matter was examined by the officials of the two Governments, in so far as the Erne was concerned, and a joint report was, I understand, issued to the public, giving a sort of review of their conclusions. I am not going to go into that report now, but it is in existence and it clearly shows that an effort was made, an engineering examination was conducted into the problems presented by the Erne, and four different proposals were made as to how the Erne problem should be treated. After those four recommendations, with estimates of the cost of each of the four different works proposed, were presented and made known, the Northern Government presented the report and estimates to the Drainage Advisory Committee which, in turn, rejected all four propositions and estimates. I am merely going over that ground to show the House that this is a problem which, we are advised, cannot be tackled unless we can secure the cooperative effort of both Governments. I have also given that explanation to show that efforts have been made in the past, unsuccessfully, to find a solution. What the future will hold in that regard is something which I am not in a position to deal with now.

Questions were asked here as to what steps were being taken to carry out surveys and what preparations were being made to start operations. Survey work has been going on for some time in the Brosna district and, at the moment, we are engaged in a survey of the district to which Senator McGee referred yesterday, that is, the Glyde and Dee. I could not forecast when work actually will start. Some Senators here yesterday evening— including, I think, Senator O'Dea— stated that this was work in which machinery and plant were not necessary. That may be so, to a limited extent, but our technical people do not accept that view. Very heavy plant, plant that is at the moment unprocurable, is necessary for the type of work that we will have to undertake; and until the conditions in the world change, and these machines come on the market again, I cannot see much prospect of making progress with this particular work. I want to assure the House that we are trying to build up an organisation and a programme—as I have indicated in the case of those two districts—by which we will be ready to start off to work as soon as the conditions permit of our doing so.

Senator Sweetman referred to Section 28. As far as I can remember, he regards that section as capable of being used in a rather wide fashion. It can be used, certainly, in that way but, looked upon from our angle, I would never dream of encouraging the application of this section in the wide and generous sort of way to which he referred last evening.

I am not guilty of a breach of any confidence when I tell the Parliamentary Secretary that I am assured by the county manager in Kildare that the way I mentioned is the way in which he intends to interpret it.

I am not accepting any responsibility for that.

I am not trying to impute any responsibility to the Parliamentary Secretary except this—that, as it is his Bill, he should provide that such an interpretation cannot be put on it.

No. As a matter of fact anything that I might say here could not in any way limit the effects which Section 28, as it is, will have. That section was designed largely because of the position which arose as a result of the difficulties which some county councils had experienced in the past in endeavouring to maintain districts that had been handed over to them, and which they were legally obliged to maintain. Some of those county councils found it impossible to collect the necessary funds from the riparian owners to do the maintenance work. In some of these cases there were joint districts so that more than one county council was responsible. There was not the same sort of acceptance of their responsibilities by some of the county councils as there was in the case of the isolated county council to which I have referred. That county council took up the attitude: "We must make some effort to maintain these works; we cannot collect the rate from the riparian owners that would be sufficient to do this job; we will do something, even though from the legal point of view that may be very questionable; we will maintain the works as best we can out of the ordinary rates of the council." We found that such a thing as that did actually occur in some cases. Therefore, we were anxious to ensure that a position of that kind would be regularised to the extent that it was possible for the Minister for Local Government and Public Health to adjust matters as between the county councils on whose shoulders rested a legal responsibility for the maintenance work in these parts of the drainage district situate in their territories. Section 28 also gives power to a local authority to wipe out arrears and to recover them to whatever extent they can, to grant such concessions as they may think fit and proper in so far as these arrears are concerned. I am only now expressing an individual opinion. I cannot see any local authority going out of its way to interpret this section in the generous fashion that Senator Sweetman imagines by giving to people who have refused to pay—some of whom could pay—concessions that other people who have endeavoured to meet their obligations have not enjoyed.

Surely the Parliamentary Secretary will accept my assurance that it is going to be done.

Senator Sweetman explained that he would meet this situation by wiping out three years' arrears and by making a refund to those who had behaved properly in meeting their obligations. He said he would do that in order to put all those people on the same plane and so as not to encourage the feeling that the man who refuses to meet his obligations will in the end profit by that refusal.

I only took three years as an example.

My point is that while I have not any idea of how the county managers for Kildare, Laoighis and Offaly will operate this section, I would be surprised, seeing that there is a legal responsibility on them for the collection of the rates struck in their respective counties of which they are county managers, if they were to go out and say to those people: "We are going to wipe out all those arrears." Although this section can be interpreted and used in that fashion, I would hope that no county manager would act in that way.

I hope then that the Parliamentary Secretary will accept an amendment from me on the Committee Stage to prevent them from so acting.

I am sure Senator Sweetman is one of those who has been agitating for a long time for the giving of more powers to the local authorities, and complaining at the same time that power has been taken from local authorities which they enjoyed in the past. Here is a case in which the local authorities are being given a discretionary power.

The local authorities are not getting it. The county manager is.

Well, the county manager is the local authority, and the local authority is the county council.

That is where my argument goes.

I must regard the council as the council and approach this question on that basis. I say that complaints have been made because of a tendency in the recent past to take away power from the local authorities. Here is a case where a discretionary power is being given to the local authority.

The Parliamentary Secretary has made a fair score there.

In this section we are giving the local authority a discretionary power, a thing which they have been agitating for. Neither the Senator nor the county councils can have it both ways. Both Senator Sweetman and Senator Duffy referred to the position of the Barrow. I do not propose to go into that in any great detail. Since I went to the Board of Works I have read up the history of the Barrow as best I could. I also listened in the other House to a discussion on this question in which the late Deputy Hugo Flinn took part. The report of that discussion is on the record of the other House. Although at the time I knew nothing about the history of the Barrow, I must say now that the arguments advanced by the late Deputy Flinn were, in my opinion, entirely convincing. If the two Senators who have referred to this matter will turn to paragraph 58 of the Drainage Commission Report they will find there a complete refutation of the charges made in the pamphlet to which they referred.

On a point of explanation. I referred last evening to the paragraph in the Report of the Drainage Commission dealing with the Barrow. When the official report of my speech is available he will find, if he reads it over, that I said last evening that the Barrow works were well planned, that they were well carried out and well executed, and that the Report of the Drainage Commission on that point was correct.

Perhaps I might be permitted to intervene to say that, in my reference to the Barrow last evening, I commenced by saying that I knew nothing about the conflict between the Department and the local people. I merely recited a few paragraphs from a statement made, I think, in 1938, and went on to show, I hope, that the difficulty about the Barrow drainage was due to the fact that it was not accompanied by an afforestation scheme.

I will read the paragraph from the Report of the Drainage Commission in case any one might think that I was misinterpreting the views expressed by the commission on this question of the Barrow. This is what the commission had to say about it in paragraph 58:—

"We have heard a number of witnesses in reference to the Barrow and have visited portions of the catchment area and seen some of the principal works. We are satisfied that the scheme was well designed and well executed, and an examination of the river gauge readings furnishes abundant proof that the scheme has produced very considerable improvement in river conditions. It is generally admitted that floods now run off much more quickly and that the area affected by flooding has been greatly reduced. Failure to maintain the works properly has resulted in deterioration and contributed to recent flooding. It was alleged before us that the final award assessments on the lands were grossly excessive. An analysis of the award, however, shows that, excluding lots with special site values in urban areas, the assessments on the improved lands in the Barrow drainage district vary from 6d. to 10/- per acre. There are less than a dozen agricultural lots with an assessment exceeding 7/- per acre, and these lots adjoin urban areas. Out of the total assessed area of 43,520 acres, only 4,467 acres, or roughly 10 per cent., are valued at more than 4/- per acre. The average assessment, however, over the whole district is 2/10 per acre as compared with an average assessment of 4/- per acre in the case of 1925 Act schemes."

I entirely refuse to accept the view that the assessment in the case of the riparian owners on the Barrow was excessive. I do not know the people concerned as intimately as I know the people of other parts of the country. I know riparian owners whose lands have been assessed under the 1925 Act, as pointed out in that paragraph, at 4/- per acre and they are very pleased to make that payment. I am puzzled not a little by the behaviour of the riparian owners in the case of the Barrow, where the average charge was not 4/- but 2/10 per acre. That is all I have to say on the question of the Barrow drainage.

Senator Duffy referred to the enormous expenditure envisaged under this Bill and spoke of the interest charges and their effects. He went on to say that, after all that expenditure, future generations would, as a result of the silting of rivers, be presented with a similar problem and, perhaps, similar financial responsibility. Our view is that much of the good effect of the work done by drainage operations under previous Acts has been lost because of the failure of the authorities responsible properly to maintain the works. Senator Ruane, having made a complaint as to our failure to provide for the initiation of works by local authorities, went on— I was disappointed with his remarks in this connection—to say that, after all, the local authorities have experience of these matters, have been handling these problems, know a lot about drainage and could make useful suggestions and give valuable co-operation. While that may be true to an extent, it is also true that local authorities have broken down almost completely in the past in maintaining districts for the maintenance of which they were legally liable.

Mr. P. O'Reilly

That is under the Arterial Drainage Act of 1925.

And several other Acts. It is true in respect of districts transferred to them for maintenance under the Local Government Act, 1898.

And the Act of 1924.

When this commission was in existence, each county council was invited to send representatives to give evidence. A verbatim report of the evidence is available in my office. I knew my own county and some of the neighbouring counties and I was curious to see what the evidence given on behalf of the county councils before the commission was like. I was appalled to find that, even in the case of schemes carried out as recently as six or seven years ago, for the maintenance of which the county councils were legally liable, not a penny had been spent, although those schemes had cost the State, the local authorities and the riparian owners, many thousands of pounds. I should be glad to give local authorities the credit Senator Ruane claimed for them if there was anything on the records to justify their making such a claim or to justify my admitting it. On this question of the discharge by county councils of their responsibility for the maintenance of districts in their charge, I cannot make any concession. I tried to dispel a misunderstanding in the other House—a misunderstanding which seems to have trickled in here—of a statement I made when discussing the measure there. Two statements are being attributed to me for which I have no responsibility. One statement has reference to the rate of progress likely to be made under this Bill when it becomes an Act. The other statement is as to the time when the organisation to be set up to implement this measure will have reached its maximum output. I did not express any opinion on these matters. I merely repeated the opinion expressed by the Drainage Commission in their report. They stated that, from the day on which operations commence under this measure, a period of five years will elapse before the organisation is perfected to the point when an annual expenditure of £250,000 per annum will have been reached. I did not say that that was likely to be the best we could do. I merely told the Dáil, as I now tell the Seanad, that that was the opinion expressed by the Drainage Commission. I also tried, in the other House, to dispel the notion that the execution of works under this Bill, when it becomes an Act, would prove to be a great source of employment. The commission examined that matter and their estimate of the amount of constant employment to be given, assuming an expenditure of £250,000 per annum, was 1,000 men.

Senator Sweetman and Senator Kingsmill Moore made a point which had not been made so far—that some opportunity should be provided for consultation before the publication of a scheme. The reason they gave for making that suggestion was that, once a scheme is published, the tendency on the part of technical men is to resist amendment. I do not think there is anything in that because I believe that the consultation, to which Senator Sweetman and Senator Kingsmill Moore referred, must actually take place. Now, thinking along the line of those who would be most likely to be interested in such matters. I would assume that the persons most likely to be interested, or whose interests would be likely to be involved, would be the county council or the borough council concerned, or, perhaps, some industry or factory that might be affected.

Or the Minister for Agriculture.

Well, we have to arrange for consultation there. That is a question of administration, and, administratively, the position is altogether different. Administratively, it has always been the practice, not only in regard to this particular matter, but to other matters, to have these consultations between the Department of State concerned in the matter and the local authority that will be likely to be affected or the owners of portions of a river, or other interests, such as industries, factories, and so on, that might be likely to be affected. In that connection, I may say that I think it is amazing, having regard to the complicated nature of this work and the execution of works of this type, the amount of agreement that it has been possible to secure. In saying that, I think I can wind in the remarks made by Senator McEllin in talking about industry, the provision of cheap power, and the effect that an arterial drainage scheme might have on all these very important matters. These are very important matters and, as I said in the Dáil, when you come up against a situation in which an industry or factory is dependent on water power—where the provision of water power is a vital necessity for the continuance of the work of that industry or factory—the matter has to be considered from that point of view. We try to protect the industry or factory, if at all possible, but if the power cannot be provided, or if the interests of the community in general can best be served by wiping out that industry or factory, then the rights of the owners have to be considered, and it is along those lines which were raised by Senator McEllin that these matters must be approached.

Senator O'Reilly referred to three sections—Sections 17, 36 and 48—and, of course, he will have another opportunity of making known to us what objection, exactly, he sees to those sections. I think Senator Duffy has also referred to one of these sections, No. 17. I have been looking at these sections since, and I cannot see what is in the Senators' minds. However, when we come to the Committee Stage of the Bill we shall, undoubtedly, hear more about them. I think, Sir, I have covered all the points that were made. At least, so far as I remember the points that were made, I think I have endeavoured to cover them.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary bear in mind my point as to Section 24?

That is, with regard to maintenance transfer orders?

Yes. I was not quite clear about that.

The section means that, when the drainage authority applies for a transfer order in regard to a drainage district that is, at the moment, being used by a local authority, the control and management of such existing drainage district shall be transferred to the commissioners.

But what is in the Parliamentary Secretary's mind about the implementation of that section?

The point is this: Just as the Drainage Commission suggested that a period of five years would elapse from the time the work would be started before the maximum expenditure could be reached, before the organisation necessary to provide for a maximum expenditure of £250,000 could be set up, it would take that period of time to build up the necessary maintenance organisation, as indicated in the Report of the Drainage Commission, and I think that until we shall have the necessary organisation for maintenance built up, there would be no point in applying for a maintenance transfer order under Section 24. Let me give one case as an example. If we were to start with, let us say, the Brosna district to-morrow and complete it in two years' time, we would then be responsible for the future maintenance of that scheme and for all new works that might be executed later on. We would be responsible for the future maintenance of the scheme and for any new works that might be undertaken in connection with it, and, of course, in such a case, we would serve a bill on the local authorities concerned, but when we come to set up an authority or organisation in connection with the Brosna district, we shall have an organisation to take care of maintenance work. In the case of a bigger scheme, however, under Section 24 we wish to take power to have these other outside districts transferred to us in order to give a full-time job to those engaged in the maintenance organisation established in the Brosna region. Perhaps I have not made that very clear, but it is as clear as I can make it, and that sort of building up of a maintenance organisation will continue all over the country. As I have said, Sir, I have tried to meet all the points that were made. I must say that I have been met very fairly and helpfully by the members of this House, and that any criticism that has been offered has been very clear and helpful, and I hope that we shall have the same helpful atmosphere when we come to discuss the Bill in greater detail after Christmas.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary answer my question as to the matter of statutory limitations? If he is not prepared to answer my question now, perhaps he could convey his answer to me privately because, without an answer to my question, it will be impossible to frame an amendment to deal with the matter. Apart from that, I should like to point out that, when we were arguing or talking about the Barrow a moment ago, I thought that the Parliamentary Secretary was under the impression that I said that the Barrow scheme was not carried out properly.

Yes, I think the Parliamentary Secretary said a different thing.

I want the Parliamentary Secretary to clarify the position in regard to the drainage area, to which I referred, and in which he and I are both interested. The question I put to the Parliamentary Secretary is: Can we, for instance, commence at the bridge over the Erne in Belturbet and finish the job to the end at the Fermanagh border under this Bill, or is it to be left because we cannot do the whole scheme?

Whatever impediments there are, this Bill will neither add to them nor remove them.

Can we do that job? I think I am entitled to an answer. I want to know, because it is a matter of very considerable importance. I know of no impediments that would prevent that work being carried out at the time the original works were going on. It was left unfinished at that point. Can you start to-morrow and complete the job to the Fermanagh border?

I have always been told by people to whom laymen like Senator Baxter and myself must look for information from the technical point of view, that the co-operation of all the authorities concerned was necessary and I see no reason to doubt the wisdom of that advice.

Then we cannot do it.

Mr. Johnston

I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he has any information in relation to the Muckno drainage area in the vicinity of Castleblayney. The river runs for about a mile between the Counties of Monaghan and Armagh and the area is in urgent need of attention. Representations were made to the previous Government and representations have also been made to the present Government in regard to this area and I should like to know if the Parliamentary Secretary could give me any information in regard to it. If we could sink and widen half of the river, it would drain close on 1,000 acres around Castleblayney.

I am sorry, although I must confess that Senator Johnston discussed the matter with me privately, that I do not know enough about the history of that particular river to express any opinion in regard to it, but from the fact that, on the Senator's own admission, it is a Border river flowing for a mile or two between the Counties of Armagh and Monaghan, I can quite see that it could present a problem that would be incapable of solution. If the Senator wishes I shall look into the matter and give him all the information I can about it.

Mr. Johnston

I would be glad if the Parliamentary Secretary would so do.

As to the question addressed to me by Senator Sweetman, I cannot see what relation it has to any of the matters for which I am responsible. I am not charged with the responsibility either of striking a rate, encouraging the local authorities to strike a rate, or of seeing that when a rate is struck, the local authority will collect it. I am merely responsible for the enactment of a measure which in Section 28 gives local authorities certain discretionary powers in these matters. How the Senator can knit that in with a request for information as to what the statutory obligations of local authorities are and what is the statutory position in relation to ratepayers, whether drainage ratepayers or otherwise, I must say I fail to see.

I shall try to make it clear on the Committee Stage and I can bring in an amendment on Report.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 17th January, 1945.