Road Fund (Grants) (Temporary Provisions) Bill, 1962 (Certified Money Bill) — Second and Subsequent Stages.

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

The Bill has a two-fold purpose. First, it provides for the cancellation of the Road Fund debt on foot of borrowing from the Exchequer and, secondly, for the making of additional grants to the Fund from the Exchequer over the period of three years commencing 1st April, 1961.

Under Section 2 of the Bill the Road Fund debt to the Exchequer will be completely wiped out. In addition the repayable advances to be made to the Road Fund under the Road Fund (Grants and Advances) (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1959, will be converted into non-repayable grants. In the aggregate the Road Fund will stand to benefit to the extent of £1,400,000 approximately by the passage of this Bill. In exchange for this improvement in the position of the Road Fund I have agreed with the Minister for Finance that the Estate Duties Grant issued annually to local authorities through the Local Taxation Account will be terminated as from 1st April, 1962. This grant amounts on average to £120,000 approximately per annum. The net amount which will be saved to the Road Fund is thus equivalent to about 20 years purchase of the Estate Duties Grant. As Senators will probably be aware I have been able to pass on the immediate benefits of this transaction to local authorities. The rate of recoupment on the main road upkeep grant has been increased from 40 per cent to 50 per cent. This increase has been very welcome to local authorities. Furthermore urban road authorities will get an increase of ten per cent. in the amount of their Road Fund grants plus an additional amount corresponding to the amount of Estate Duties grant which they would otherwise receive.

Senators will note that under Section 1 of the Bill provision is made for additional grants amounting to £700,000 from the Exchequer to supplement the Road Fund. Of this amount the sum of £400,000 represents the conversion of the repayable advances which would have been forthcoming under the 1959 Act into non-repayable grants and which I have already mentioned. The remaining £300,000 is being provided as a supplement to the Road Fund to enable the particular road problems which were first tackled under the 1959 Act to continue to be dealt with. The special assistance provided by that Act was designed to deal with two particular types of road problem viz:— (a) that created in certain counties by the closing (in whole or in part) of railway lines; (b) that created by traffic serving certain important industrial undertakings, the public road approaches to which have been found to need improvement.

The amount of £2 million made available under the 1959 Act has now been fully earmarked against specific schemes and programmes of road authorities. The continuation and extension of the 1959 programme will require a total additional allocation of £900,000 over a period of three years of which £600,000 will be borne entirely on the Road Fund, the balance of £300,000 being provided under Section 1 of this Bill. Out of this additional sum, substantial grants have been made available to a number of road authorities including Cork County Council and Cork Corporation, Waterford County Council and Waterford Corporation, the county councils of Clare, Westmeath, Louth, Kilkenny, Offaly and Laois. A number of other applications which have been received will be fully and carefully examined by my Department.

I am sure that the proposals incorporated in the Bill will have the full support of the House.

The Minister in introducing this Bill has indicated that it provides for certain arrangements with regard to money spent over the past 3 years and further arrangements for money to be spent in the years immediately ahead. It is, therefore, an opportune time to consider and review our basic road policy and to consider whether the present policies of the Minister and his Department are the best policies to be pursued in the spending of this increased amount of money devoted towards the roads. If we look at the road position we find ourselves with approximately 10,000 miles of main roads, 40,000 miles of county roads, and about 20,000 miles of lanes not in public charge. As all members of local authorities know, there is a continual struggle as to the amounts which should be spent on the main roads and on the county roads. These main roads differ very much in quality, and, indeed, some of them are of no concern at all to the local authority. Many of them deal with traffic whose origin is outside the county and whose destination is also outside the county concerned. These are largely main arterial roads linking Dublin and the principal cities and towns, and also linking the larger towns together.

These form a special problem in themselves, and it is worth while for us to give the Minister the benefit of our views freely on the question of how the money should be apportioned between these arterial roads and the remaining main roads and the county roads, and the question also of what organisation is appropriate at the present time for the carrying out of works on these roads. Traditionally the Minister has divided the amount of his grant between counties on the basis of road mileage. This is not the only basis on which an allocation has been made, but by and large mileage is the basis. It is, perhaps, something which has grown up, because as the Minister and Senators know, we have a very large mileage in proportion to population and many of our counties are worse off than others in this respect.

The first point I would like to raise is that, perhaps, the time has come to make a change and to use the question of traffic as the chief single factor rather than mileage in the allocation of these grants. The second problem that must be faced squarely by the Minister is the question of arterial roads as such and their removal from the class of main roads. The third point is that when the Minister is able to spend an additional 10 per cent. on roads, and we have been spending over £10,000,000 per year, the time has come when some of this money would be well spent in the direction of testing and research. Money invested in this direction now would repay itself in very much greater value for work done in the years to come. I would, therefore, suggest that the Minister should review his policy under these three headings.

I would suggest that he should take a very long and searching look at the basis for the allocation of grants, and that we should consider roads as not merely so many miles of surfaced and so many miles of unsurfaced roads but for what they are—traffic arteries connecting one place with another. This should be the prime factor. After that local conditions and mileage are other factors. The Minister mentioned tourist grants and special local industries. Questions such as these have also to be taken into account, but these factors should be subsidiary to the main factor of traffic.

Emphasis is being placed on the great importance of productive investment, and if road investment is to be productive as well as the remainder of our capital investment it is in these forms that the Minister's grants should be given. There is no question whatever that in other countries in the investment criteria developed and used regarding road expenditure investment in arterial roads has first priority. It may be that some of these criteria are not appropriate to this country, but they do indicate that arterial roads are first priority and that even a modification of them to suit our circumstances would give us the same answer.

These are roads which are largely not the concern of the local authority, but are the concern of productive investment from the national point of view. I would ask the Minister if he would examine on its merits the question of treating these arterial roads as a national problem. I am not asking the Minister to consider complete nationalisation of all road works. This, I think, would be most retrograde. But I am asking him to consider that roads which are arterial and which serve that national function should be organised on a national basis.

We must remember when we look at these roads now that some of them are already becoming overcrowded with traffic, but many of the others do not appear to have the congestion which we see on roads in Britain or in other countries. The position is that we are just coming up behind. We have ten years or, perhaps, fifteen, and if we do not move with the times we will get the traffic chaos of the British roads. Indeed, if Britain had the 15 years to spare which we have now with regard to the problem she would be very glad of the opportunity and time to plan. I would urge the Minister to see that the problem is tackled and plans are made now so that we do not wait until the cars are already slowed down and queuing on the roads before the problem is tackled. I would urge the Minister to examine this on its merits. I can assure him that in any such examination he would have the wholehearted co-operation of the professional bodies concerned.

The Institution of Civil Engineers and Cumann na nInnealtóirí would be only too glad to help the Minister in any way in an examination of what they recognise, and what they hope the Minister and the public will come more and more to recognise, as a problem already urgent in our view, and one which should be tackled without delay. Such a move would enable this national problem to be tackled properly. But it would do something else also. It would leave the local authorities much freer than they are at the moment to deal with these roads which are largely their concern, the roads in which they have a vital interest. By removing from them these arterial roads which are not their concern, the local authorities would be freer to concentrate on the remaining main roads and on their county roads.

As to what this organisation should be, as to whether it should be organised as part of the Minister's own Department, or whether it should be organised as a joint authority between the counties, these are matters which can be gone into. I personally feel that, perhaps, some statutory body, suitably set up, might be the best solution. But as I am not asking the Minister to accept anything and merely to examine the question, I mention that only as a possible solution.

The further point I want to bring up concerns the question of the allocation of money for testing and research. We spend £10,000,000 a year on roads. In other countries—and on our roads, of course, at the moment we have to learn from them—automatically a certain percentage of money allocated for road works goes for testing and research. The position at the moment is that although a little is done in this country, not nearly enough is done. We depend largely on getting the results of work done abroad and then attempting in the field to apply them directly to our own local circumstances.

Something more is needed when we have expenditure at the level of £10,000,000 a year. We need some organisation, some systematic procedure, whereby there should be personnel, equipment and money for the testing of sites, the testing of soils, and such research on new problems as experimental roads. Years ago many of our county engineers laid stretches of experimenal roads. We have very little of this sort of thing today. There is not the money to spare and no man thinks he has sufficient reputation to spare to put in purely experimental roads, because neither the local authority nor the man himself is prepared to face the chance of failure. It would be much better if the Minister would allocate a certain amount of money from the Road Fund for the building of experimental roads.

We have many problems. We have several problems due to the soil types in the west. If money were allocated for roads that were specifically experimental roads, then these roads could be treated as such. Nobody is hurt if the experiment is a failure, and actually on work of this type we often learn more from failures than successes. It is in this way, I think, we have a real need.

The main problem of our secondary and county roads is not so much the question of how much we should spend on them, but the fact that we need to develop low-cost methods of building roads for light traffic. There is no sense in our adopting methods which have been developed elsewhere for high density traffic and applying them to our Irish county roads. The problem is what to do with the farm-to-market roads which carry light traffic. This problem has not been solved for Irish conditions. I do not think it would take too much money to solve it, given the proper organisation. The Minister should set some money aside for the provision of an information centre in which foreign literature could be studied and results made available. Many of our county surveyors have kept themselves marvellously well in touch with the huge volume of experimental work done in Britain and Europe. But this is something a man as busy as a county engineer should not have to do in his own time and largely at his own expense. This is something in which the Minister's Department could give a lead.

There is one other factor on the question of our road policy and the question of getting value for money spent on our roads that I want to bring to the Minister's attention. Due to the policy of the Department of Local Government in regard to temporary engineers, the efficiency of road work is being interfered with. The position is that because improvements on roads are the subject of a 100 per cent. grant they tend to be considered largely as not of direct concern to the county. Many councils are reluctant to assign permanent staff to work on them. The trouble then is that they must be staffed by temporary staff. Due to an order of the Minister's Department temporary staff cannot be held in any one position for longer than three years.

Because of this absolute bar, this completely unjust regulation, engineers will tend to move long before the three years are up because they will be afraid they will be caught at the end of the three years. The result is that most local authorities are well below their establishment in regard to temporary engineers. Indeed, the recruitment of temporary engineers is a matter of supreme difficulty. Already, because of the unsatisfactory conditions in their employment, the amount which has to be paid for the services of engineers has increased in recent years. If the Minister were to improve the actual conditions of employment here, he would soon find that overall there would be less to pay, and that he would have a temporary staff of higher morale which would give all of us better value on our roads. Not only is the three year rule in regard to temporary engineers a great piece of injustice, but I think it is also a great source of inefficiency.

There is one other point in which the regulations of the Department make it difficult for road work to be carried out efficiently, that is, from time to time the insistence that the work should be finished by 31st March in any one year. This may lead to accounting neatness, but to insist that a particular piece of road work must be finished by the end of March is very often to ask county engineers to have work finished during a time which is the very worst time for operations of this type. In major roadworks in winter compared with summer you can get a drop in efficiency of 25 per cent and sometimes very much higher. Nothing that the Minister does in regard to regulations of this type should further aggravate this situation.

While the increased allocation of money to roads is very welcome, I should like to say, speaking as an engineer, that in the expenditure of this money these points should be kept in mind. The roads should be treated largely as a means of carrying traffic, not as different lengths of service, and the problem of arterial roads—something like 1,500 miles of them out of the 10,000 miles of main roads—should be separated and given special treatment, and in all of this work an allocation of money for training courses abroad and for research would be money very well spent.

Up to a few years ago many of our engineers did training courses at the Road Research Laboratory in England. The numbers attending these courses have decreased greatly in recent years and I think that at a time like this the numbers should be increasing rather than decreasing. While I would welcome the expenditure of more money on roads, I would put before the Minister these considerations on how the money might be more efficiently spent.

I should like, as a member of a local authority, to thank the Minister for the increased allocation for roads estimates this year but I would appeal to him to indicate earlier than at present the amount of money that will be available to local authorities. We in Leitrim are possibly one of the earliest counties to decide the rate. We have not been intimidated in any way. We sat until 11 o'clock on the first day of the estimates and decided the issue away back in February. I notice that some have not yet decided and they will have the Minister's decision, while we in Leitrim had not. For many years past it was a bone of contention and councillors mentioned that the Minister should indicate the amount to be allocated because we had to strike a rate on the assumption that it would be the same as the current year.

While the amount of money is formidable as the last speaker said, I wonder, apart from the benefit of improved road conditions, what other benefit it will bring to the country because no matter in what part of the country you travel at the moment you can see machinery at work but very few people. In a county such as mine road work is a tradition. I come from a county where, unfortunately, the rate is the highest in Ireland. Farms are small and uneconomic and people have had to supplement their income by road work. Many have large families. We had a man recently who is the father of 11 children looking for work on the roads but we have to use the money in the same way in Leitrim as counties with a higher potential. The Minister in the course of the debate in the Dáil pointed out that the primary duty of local authorities is to provide roads not employment but I feel that in the case of a county such as mine we should be given some leeway regarding the spending of the money. Unfortunately, the practice is growing up of machinery taking over from human beings. It may be good economics but if you have reached the stage of drift of my own native county you could say that it is good economics to have people working at home irrespective of what state the roads will be in afterwards. Road work in Leitrim is looked upon as an income. If the money were made available for people to work on the roads we could have consistent employment all the year round. Those people could also look after their smallholdings, rear their families and be an asset to the country. As it is, they are being driven out by machinery. The quarries are closed— and the quarries were looked on as the local stone industry or stone factory—in favour of centralised quarries. If the Minister has any function in the matter, he should step in and indicate to local authorities such as ours that employment should also be a primary concern.

I thank the Minister for the increased contribution. We in Leitrim are getting £189,000, twice the amount of the contribution from the rates. The unfortunate thing is the policy of cutting out of turns to which there is growing resentment. I do not agree that the complete elimination of bends is a good thing because more accidents occur on straight roads than occur at dangerous turns. On that point my attitude was that it should not be done but the other fellows said: "If the money is not spent in your area, it will be spent somewhere else," so I was in favour of removing the bends.

This realignment of roads mentioned by other Senators could be eased off to some degree and the money more usefully spent throughout the county on giving more extensive employment. I would certainly ask the Minister to consider very carefully that employment, particularly in a county such as mine, should be a primary concern apart from the making of good roads.

Of the matters mentioned by the speakers one which was discussed to quite a detailed degree was road reclassification. All I would wish to say is that I announced, when speaking on roads, a year ago, at any rate in the Dáil, that this was a matter to which we are giving full consideration in the Department with a view to making whatever changes may seem desirable or necessary in the classification of roads, particularly arterial routes which were mentioned here this evening. We are on that examination as already announced some time last year. We are continuing it and as soon as we have any worthwhile conclusions, all concerned will be hearing from my Department.

Of the question of taking into consideration traffic rather than mileage in the allocation of grants, it is true to say that many things are taken into consideration other than mere road mileage and a traffic count has become quite a feature in recent years in investigations for my Department by local authorities in determining their road programme and the necessity for various improvements.

This brings me to a rather commonly held view that the realignment and widening of roads and taking away of bends is something forced on local authorities by the Department of Local Government. It is true that in certain cases these things are economically desirable and almost necessary and in those cases the realignment should be done but we in the Department, as long ago as 1958, drew the attention of road authorities to this very subject, not in order to instil into them that they must realign or straighten all roads, but rather as an admonition that they should have regard to economics and to the necessity for any such realignment before they undertook any such scheme. We set out heads as a guide to road authorities when considering these matters. Realignment should be considered in the case of roads with a bad accident record. We asked them to put the microscope on such roads and if realignment seemed the answer and if road surfacing or improvements were necessary, then the realignment should be done together with the road surfacing rather than the uneconomic idea of doing a job on the surface today and coming back tomorrow to dig up the road and put a different surface. This is our approach and by and large the approach people down the country make towards the whole problem. The idea of over-costly jobs is one which we do not desire in the Department of Local Government. Realising the limitations on the financial resources of all of us and the huge problem of roads, of the entire network, and the money we must speno, to the extent of a large sum of £10 million a year, we know that it must be spent wisely and well if we are to make the most of it in our present circumstances.

Another matter which I should like to refer to was mentioned by Senator Mooney. He seemed to be under the impression that if an alignment or realignment were costly and where the councillors were not in agreement with the engineer's proposal they would lose the money to somewhere else if they did not go ahead with it. That is entirely wrong and whoever dictated that line of approach to the Senator was also wrong. Indeed, on this matter also I issued a circular to the local authorities as far back as 1958 pointing out that they should exercise their right of having brought before them, as an elected body, all proposals by their engineering staff before they were submitted to my Department for sanction and approval. It had come to my notice that in the past local councils in many cases were being presented with a fait accompli. Local engineers submitted their schemes to my Department, received approval and sanction and then submitted them to the council. The circular which I issued in 1958 indicated that local authorities should see these proposals and further, having seen them, if they did not agree with them and if they could not resolve their disagreement between themselves and the engineer's proposals, they were invited to send their alternative proposals to my Department, in addition to the engineer's proposals and my Department would then adjudicate between them.

The most striking feature about this is that no such dispute has been submitted to us over the past three years. It speaks well of the members of the councils and the engineering staffs that while, I am sure, disagreement must have arisen it was always possible to resolve it at local level and no recourse has been had to this suggestion. In so far as research is concerned, it is true that we do not specifically set aside moneys of any worth for this purpose but it is recognised that over the years there has been recourse by our engineers not only to the various findings of research in this country but also to those abroad. The fact that engineers have been sent abroad, and have been helped to go abroad by the various councils over the years, has made up part of the want that may be said to exist in regard to lack of research within the country.

It is true that occasionally within the country we do get our county engineers and other engineers together for a conference, which lasts for a day or two and which is addressed by various experts selected for their knowledge in particular fields of engineering related to the work of local authority engineering. I suppose it is true that if we had the facilities and plenty of money we could usefully use some of that money for further research. On the other hand, I would not like it to be taken that my mind is closed entirely to the idea of providing further facilities and it is a matter which is being kept under constant review by my Department. If we feel that something worthwhile can be got from an extension of the idea of money for research, in whatever direction it may be, I can assure the House we will consider any such help favourably and sympathetically.

There is also this question of the injustice of the regulation which does not permit the employment of an engineer or a temporary official for a period greater than three years. Off the cuff, my recollection of that, and, indeed, it was before my time as Minister, is that it arose from the fact that greater injustice was said to have been caused by the continuance in temporary office of various officers and professional people in the local authorities for years and years and finally they were not permanent or pensionable. The three-year bar was brought in and if that injustice is in being today it is directly the result—and I am subject to correction on this—of trying to remedy the previous injustice whereby temporary officers were allowed to continue for ever and always to their own detriment and the detriment of those they served. I do not know whether there is any real answer as between the two extremes. I should be glad for further light on the problem. If the speaker who referred to the matter wishes to let me have any I shall examine it.

Another matter which was referred to was the insistence of my Department on the completion of work before the 31st March each year. We are not quite as hidebound as that. It is true that we have got to try to ensure that works are completed within the financial year. This is not just merely a matter of bookkeeping. By and large, if we find a county engineer's programme is such that it is beginning to overlap and run into the next year, then there is something wrong somewhere. There are exceptional circumstances and cases and where these are presented to us we do, in the Department, allow these works to go on into the following financial year, particularly if the work is of a nature that it would be wasteful if done during the early days of Spring.

Machinery versus manual workers was also referred to. This presents us with a problem to which, strictly speaking, I think there is no real answer. If we follow it along we find it is a question of using the Road Fund and the money provided by county councils and the Central Exchequer as employment relief moneys. They are not such. They have never been intended for such but I agree and admit that their expenditure over the years, particularly in the poorer counties, has had the effect of being of very great assistance to the uneconomic holder and the small farmer who is only part time engaged on his land, who is not able to make a living off the land, and has been able to supplement his income from the smallholding by virtue of casual work on the roads. However, we should not get the idea that because that has come to be a practice over the years this money can be regarded solely as unemployment relief money. It is not that and, unfortunately, we have not at our disposal money of the magnitude necessary to make it into such and do the roads in a proper way at the same time. On the other hand, I should not like anyone to think that I am all for the idea of mechanisation as it would appear to be developing at the moment. Machinery can and, I am sure, is, in certain cases, not very economic.

Machines, if purchased in quantity and in size beyond the needs of the job on hands, cannot be said to be economic and never will be economic. In cases where that could be found out, it would be far better that these moneys should go to the manual workers in their wages rather than wastefully spent in over-mechanisation or in the misuse of machinery, which also can arise.

It is very easy to criticise the use of machinery and to point out the faults and fallacies in its use in various counties and on particular jobs. We should have some appreciation of the fact that this is a big job but is only one of a multitude of jobs which our county engineers have to perform. They cannot be masters in every last aspect of the administration as well as masters in their own profession. Like all of us, they are subject to error. By and large, I should think that where you have a reasonable engineer—I think most of them are reasonable— and where you have reasonable councils—as a whole, I think they also are reasonable—working together and in co-operation, and using the best in the minds of all of them, they can hit the happy medium whereby the greatest possible amount of manual labour is employed and, at the same time—and a very necessary aspect of the whole problem—the greatest possible amount of road mileage is improved out of the moneys available. If we all work in that direction and bear in mind the difficulties on all sides then if we cannot go the whole hog in all directions we can hit the happy medium which, in the main, will give the most economic road repair and improvement which is so necessary throughout the country.

By and large, the Bill will generally be welcomed—I am sure it will not be opposed—by all concerned. Where we get the Central Exchequer adding to the Road Fund, we are all very happy because it is not a practice which has very often been participated in by any Government in the past. I am sure the House will praise and accept this Bill for what it is worth.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.
Bill put through Committee, reported without recommendation and received for final consideration.
Question proposed: "That the Bill be returned to the Dáil."

There is something which I wish to say and which I did not say on the Second Stage. May I say so now?

Surely it depends on what the Senator wishes to say.

The rule is that on the Fifth Stage now before the House, that is, "that the Bill be returned to the Dáil", only what is in the Bill may be discussed.

When introducing the Bill in the Dáil, the Minister said a sum of £900,000 was borrowed by the Fund from the Exchequer in 1957-58 and, of that amount, a sum of £622,603 principal will be outstanding as a debt due to the Exchequer on 31st March, 1962. On that point I should like to ask what the Road Fund is composed of and whether it was actually used up when that sum had to be borrowed from the Exchequer.

As a result of having insufficient funds, local authorities are not able to carry out necessary work. There is a good deal of complaint in county council areas that the public are paying their rates and so much towards the Road Fund but that all roads are not getting the benefit of the Vote. There are priorities—main roads, county roads and by-roads which, in some counties, might be called lanes.

We are getting into the by-ways, now.

Acting Chairman

I am allowing the Senator a certain amount of latitude, in view of his goodwill.

The Minister may argue that that is a matter for the local authority.

Acting Chairman

I am afraid the Senator is out of order now.

Because of lack of funds, they cannot cover all the roads for the present, and the present comes fairly often. The following year the reply is the same. I was hoping the Exchequer might be more generous in view of the burden of the rates and especially as railways in County Cork have been closed down, which is not the fault of the Minister.

Acting Chairman

Judging by the business which will come before the Seanad pretty soon, I think the Senator will have another opportunity to ventilate this matter rather than now.

I accept that.

A net question was asked in regard to figures. I should just like to give this answer. The Senator asked whether or not the £900,000 of the debt incurred in 1957 was still due, as to over £600,000 of it, to the Exchequer and why that £900,000 was then raised. That £900,000 was raised early in 1957 in order to make it possible for the then existing level of road grants to be continued during the year 1957-58. Without that £900,000 they would have had to cut the grants substantially. That money was lent by the Exchequer to the Road Fund so that there would be no cut in the grants to the councils in 1957-58. Since then, we have been paying back part of that money. We have paid almost one-third of it but we still owe about £600,000.

Question put and agreed to.
Business suspended at 5.50 p.m. and resumed at 7.15 p.m.