Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 20 Mar 1968

Vol. 64 No. 12

Death of Minister. - Local Government (Roads and Drainage) Bill, 1968: Second Stage.

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

Is é cuspóir an Bhille seo ná a thabhairt dos na comhairlí contae na cumhachta is gá chun na scéimeanna atá fé láthair fé chúram Rannóg na Scéimeanna Speisialta Fostaíochta dem Roinn a oibriú. Isí tuairim an Rialtais gur chóir na scéimeanna seo—bóithre feirme agus portaigh agus mionscéimeanna siltin —a aistriú go dtí na comhairlí contae. Tá sé beartuithe an aistriú a dhéanamh ar an gcéad lá d'Aibreán agus mar sin gabhann práinn leis an mBille.

Is mór an áis na scéimeanna seo do mhuintir na tuaithe, go mór mhór do mhuintir an Iarthair, agus táim sásta go n-oibreoidh an Bille seo ar leas na ndaoine sin.

Bille simplí é agus molaim é don tSeanad.

The purpose of this Bill is to grant the county councils the necessary powers to carry out the schemes formerly administered as Bog Development, Minor Employment and Rural Improvement Schemes by the Special Employment Schemes Office, which recently became the Special Employment Schemes Section of my Department. The Government have decided that the grants for these schemes— farmers' roads, bog roads and minor drainage works—should in future be administered under a single scheme and that the county councils should be asked to administer the scheme, subject to the general control of my Department. The county councils have been advised of the details of the new scheme and almost all have by now indicated their willingness to operate it.

The Bill itself is a relatively simple measure. Section 2 confers the power on a county council to enter into an agreement with landholders for the construction or improvement of accommodation roads and bog roads and for the execution of minor drainage schemes to serve land or bogs. Section 3 provides that the expense of the work will be shared between the State and the benefiting landholders. Section 4 authorises the making of State grants to the county councils for the purpose of the new scheme.

The new scheme will be known as the Local Improvements Scheme and will operate as a single contributory scheme. This is a logical step as the three existing schemes all dealt with the same type of work. The new arrangement will make it easier to administer the scheme and should help to reduce the costs of administration, thus ensuring that more of the available money is devoted to the works themselves. It will also help to ensure that grants are allocated for the most necessary works. To facilitate participation in the scheme by landholders in the congested western areas, reduced rates of local contribution will apply in cases where the average valuation of the landholders is low. Thus, the maximum rate will be 2½ per cent in the case of valuations under £5, compared with 10 per cent under the Rural Improvements Scheme in the past.

A bulk allocation will be made each year to each county council. Out of this, the council will make grants for individual schemes coming within the scope of the Bill, which, as I have indicated, means schemes such as the Special Employment Schemes Office carried out in the past. The council will select the schemes to be done in the year, enter into agreements with the landholders, collect their contributions and then execute the schemes. Priority in the recruitment of workmen will be accorded to suitable unemployed men registered at the Employment Exchanges. Councils have been requested to give priority on the new scheme to gangers and other supervisory officials formerly employed by the Special Employment Schemes Office.

As in the past, the schemes will operate on a voluntary basis. The councils will act only on the request of the beneficiaries and with the consent of the landholders whose interests may be affected.

It is intended that the cost of the new scheme will be met by the State grant plus the landholders' contributions. In calculating the cost the county council will be entitled to include a percentage charge in respect of administrative expenses. As I said, the lower this is, the more of the available money that will be devoted to the actual works. Indeed, a prime consideration in transferring the schemes to county councils is the fact that the maintenance of a separate organisation engaged exclusively on carrying out so many scattered, small schemes involved high overhead costs. It is hoped that substantial economies will be effected under this head by using the existing county council organisation. We shall keep this aspect of costs specially under review. The scheme will not involve any responsibility on the part of a county council for future maintenance.

In addition to carrying out the Bog Development, Minor Employment and Rural Improvement Schemes, the Special Employment Schemes Office acted as agents for Roinn na Gaeltachta in respect of grants allocated by that Department for accommodation roads in the Gaeltacht, and for the Department of Transport and Power in respect of grants for certain bog-road and drainage works. It is intended that the county councils will act in the future for these Departments, and the Bill has been drafted accordingly. The Ministers concerned will make allocations to the county councils to enable them to do the necessary works.

As I have mentioned, practically all the county councils have indicated their willingness to operate the Local Improvements Scheme and I am sure that the very few remaining will shortly agree. I wish to repeat the tribute I paid in the Dáil to the good sense and public spirit shown by the councils in this matter. The Local Improvements Scheme, like its predecessors, is designed to improve the conditions under which the farming community live and work. These schemes have proved particularly valuable to the smallholders in the West; indeed, in the current year the great bulk of the allocations for the three schemes combined went to the West.

I have confidence in commending the Bill to the Seanad. I should add that, in order to avoid a break in continuity, it is necessary to have the Bill enacted by 1st April, when the county councils take over.

I just want to make one small comment on this Bill. The Bill supplements the Local Authorities Works Act, 1949, and is complementary to the Local Government Act, 1953, inasmuch as it enables works to be carried out on roads not already maintained by a road authority. One of the qualifications set out in section 2 (c) is that the road, when constructed, "will be used by the public"—a much more liberal qualification than the phrase "general public utility" which is contained in the Act of 1953. Would the Minister consider an amendment within this Bill for the purpose of amending the Act of 1953 by inserting the new words in order to harmonise the scope of both measures in their application to the spending of money on roads not formerly in charge of or not maintained by a road authority? I have in mind the insertion of a new section, before section 6, which would read:

Section 2 of the Local Government Act, 1953 (No. 12 of 1953), shall have effect as if the words "used by the public" were substituted for "general public utility".

When this Bill was first introduced in the other House many Members, and, in fact, the public generally, regarded this Bill, particularly from its description as the Local Government (Roads and Drainage) Bill as a re-introduction of the Local Authorities (Works) Act under a new name. It was described by a number of people as a rose by another name. But as the discusssion on it went on and in view of the meagre nature of the grants allocated it would now appear that the thorns on the rose bushes outnumber the petals.

This Bill sees the termination of the operations of the Rural Improvements Scheme as it was known in the past. I should like at the outset to pay a tribute to the officials and the workers who operated the Rural Improvements Scheme down through the years. Excellent work was performed under that measure particularly during the inter-Party Government's time when a provision was introduced relating contributions to individual valuations. This was done because of the large number of objections by contributors to the requirement that they would pay contributions equal to their neighbours with higher valuations. I am glad to see that a system of graded valuations relevant to contributions is being maintained in this measure and I note that there is an improvement in the contributions towards relief of the cost for those in the very low valuations but, unfortunately, it is a hard fact that relative to some levels of valuation the amount of contribution required is higher under the scheme as presented.

Much concern has been created among the local authorities and the Minister in his introductory statement referred to the fact that some councils have not yet seen their way to cooperate in this measure. I would, without any particular knowledge of the reasons that actuated these councils to withhold their co-operation, claim that it is because of the arbitrary level of ten per cent permitted for administrative costs. The county of Cork in size corresponds to one-eight the area of the Irish Republic and if we are to accept the ten per cent as being adequate the amount involved this year would be in the region of £1,750. This would not pay the expenses of one solitary engineer let alone the administrative staff that will be engaged in carrying out the duties formerly carried out by the Special Employment Schemes Office. It would be interesting to know what the relative administrative costs were. I can appreciate any effort made by any Government Minister to introduce a more efficient and more economical method of administering any Act of Parliament but there is a feeling among the members of local authorities that there is a hidden effort here to transfer to the local authorities expenses formerly borne by the Central Exchequer relative to the cost of administering this scheme. The members of the local authorities of all Parties have protested vigorously that the ten per cent margin permitted is inadequate. It is particularly inadequate when the level of indicated grants for the coming years is considered.

I mentioned at the outset that the description of this measure as a roads and drainage Bill was a misnomer inasmuch as it implied that it would be feasible to carry out drainage operations under this Bill. It is feasible if the moneys were made available for the purpose. There is no doubt that there has been ever since 1957, since the stoppage of State contribution to the operations of the Local Authorities (Works) Act, a persistent demand from county councils, from the General Council of County Councils, even from the Árd-Fheis of the Government Party, for the re-introduction of grants under the Local Authorities (Works) Act. During all that period there was only one defence made by the Government and its representatives of their refusal to re-implement the grants under that Act, the absence of any provision for maintenance of drainage schemes under it. There is no provision for maintenance under the Bill we are now discussing, none whatsoever. Consequently, one wonders at the belief of those who were critical of the previous Act. If they were sincere in their criticism one would expect that they would introduce a provision for maintenance under this current measure but there is none. Consequently, we can only infer that in the first case there was no need for it under the Local Authorities (Works) Act, that it would not have been a proper thing to have done or else that this Bill, if we are to pay any heed to the criticism so often voiced during those years, is remiss in not providing the moneys for the maintenance of the works performed under it relative to drainage.

There is no doubt that very much agricultural production in this country is inhibited by the need for adequate drainage. I realise that arterial drainage must come first and that in that field there is inadequate work being provided to get the schemes under way. I refer to those under the arterial drainage works. There are many small tributaries which could be drained with reasonable drainage operations under schemes similar to those under the Local Authorities (Works) Acts which would make it possible for hundreds and hundreds of landowners to operate their land successfully. There is no doubt that very many drainage schemes could be embarked on without causing downstream flooding, which is alleged to be the reason why they have been deferred.

There is no doubt that if sufficient funds were made available to the county councils they could, under this Bill, provide considerable relief to hundreds and hundreds of landowners who are restricting their agricultural production at the moment because of periodic flooding. It is also true that many of the operations of the Local Authorities (Works) Act and much of the funds which could be made available would relieve the work in relation to the maintenance of road works and in relation to the Department of Local Government in the need to repair those roads.

This Bill is described as the Local Government (Roads and Drainage) Bill. However the Bill may be described it is completely inadequate to meet the needs of the rural countryside in view of the money allocated in relation to participation in the scheme. I mentioned earlier that Cork County is practically one-eighth the area of the entire State. In 1957 we received and spent in Cork County Council £40,732 on drainage under the Local Authorities (Works) Act. This was reduced, due to Government action, in the year following to £10,000 although in the last year of the full operation of the Local Authorities (Works) Act we obtained £40,732 in Cork County. This operated to the profit of landowners whose lands were flooded periodically. This relieved the situation regarding the danger in relation to the condition of many of our public roads.

Then we had the rural improvements schemes. The councils have, to an increasing extent over the last decade, come to realise their obligations in regard to the take over and maintenance of roads which were improved under the rural improvements schemes. This acted as a very definite incentive to the beneficiaries who contributed to get the roadways done. They had experienced in earlier years of proposals, money being spent and allocated to various local authorities on the repair of roadways but those roadways deteriorated because there was no provision for taking them over.

The councils realised that the standard of work efficiently performed by the Rural Improvements Schemes Office brought those roadways up to such a condition that they could in the vast majority of instances be immediately taken over on the recommendation of the engineering staff of the local authorities and maintained thereafter. This acted as an incentive to very many contributors to avail of the Rural Improvements Scheme and to be able to bring some relief to the hundreds who had not access to their homes and farmyards down the years. Councils, particularly the council of which I happen to be a member, the Cork County Council, have been foremost in the takeover of such roads and the degree of co-operation which was forthcoming between the Rural Improvements Office and the county councils was certainly most gratifying. We have constantly at our monthly meetings the development of motions for the takeover of those roads. We profited by this until a few years ago, when due to financial stringency we had practically a cessation of the operation of the rural improvements schemes. We had the situation in which applications were either refused or shelved for an indefinite period and the applicants informed that for a period of some two years finance would not be available for new schemes and the backlog which existed could only be dealt with.

In those circumstances, despite what we are informed of the vastly improved contributions, this backlog has vastly increased and many rural improvement schemes have not been done. We find in the switch over from the rural improvements schemes to the operations under this Bill that in County Cork we are handed 80 applications that have not been dealt with by the Rural Improvements Schemes Office. No doubt those are applications which are awaiting attention for a considerable time. This ignores any applications which were refused. It ignores certain people here who were under the impression that because of the cutdown under the operations of the rural improvements schemes grant it would be futile for them to make application to have their roadways attended to.

The fact now is that that backlog of unattended work over the last three or four years together with a number of fresh applicants who now feel that the council can more readily dispose of what to them was a longstanding problem, means that this particular year whatever about the years to come, there should be a very special effort made to give a more substantial grant than would be normally required so that councils would be in a position to clear off the backlog and meet at the same time the demand for new applicants who consider there is a better opportunity for them under the new scheme.

What do we find? We find that at best we are still working in a restricted capacity. Last year in Cork County we received a sum in excess of £19,000 for rural improvement schemes. We have now the 80 applications awaiting attention and we have been informed that the allocation for this year will only be £17,500. This is a negligible amount to allocate to a county of the size of Cork if this work is to be performed. The whole operation under this Bill falls completely unless there are adequate financial grants available to the councils to administer the work. The members of county councils will now be obliged to carry out a screening process to decide on an order of priority. In Cork County Council we have to decide on an order of priority among the 80 that have been awaiting attention and are now transferred to the offices in Cork. I merely cite Cork as the area with which I am familiar. There is no doubt that every other county in Ireland is involved to the same extent. The situation this year looks extremely grim relative to the amount of work that may be performed. I referred to an allocation of £40,700 in 1957. Despite the vastly augumented increases in the interim, we now have a mere £17,500 to cover roads and drainage.

In the other House there was some discussion relative to the take-over of roads that will be brought up to a suitable condition consequent on the Rural Improvements Schemes. The question arose about laneways and we had it in detail also at local authority meetings. We know that considerable difficulty has been encountered from time to time where engineers decided that a laneway will be taken over as far as the second last house but the laneway was a matter of contention until it was ultimately clarified. I should like to have the point cleared as to whether drainage of a laneway serving other residents will be included in the overall grant picture.

It would be interesting to know the percentage of administrative costs that would be involved in carrying out schemes which it is proposed to amalgamate under this scheme. The Minister must satisfy local authorities that they can operate within the figure that will be allocated to them in relation to administrative costs. This is an item of considerable concern to the local authorities at the moment and I feel if the Minister could react to the numerous representations that have been forwarded to his Department regarding the inadequacy of the proportion permitted for costs and compare that with what it cost previously, even if a saving is to be effected as he states, the council would be satisfied that it is not a question of transferring the burden from the Exchequer to the local rates.

We have had expressions of concern from members of the Government at the high level of rates and their impact on ratepayers throughout the country. We must be sure in any Act that we do not exacerbate this situation and we must assure the ratepayers and the community to that effect.

Maintenance in relation to drainage schemes is, as I said at the outset, a very important one. It would be of considerable assistance in carrying out drainage operations if provision could be made for their maintenance.

There is another point which I should like clarified. I refer to the take-over of these roadways once they have been brought up to standard. This Bill provides that work may be undertaken to provide this amenity for a number of landowners or occupiers on a particular roadway. However, the interpretation by the county engineers has been restrictive regarding the subsequent take-over in relation to the number residing on the roadway. It has been interpreted by many as requiring at least two residents, whereas under the terms of this Bill grants may be available irrespective of the number of residents, or so long as there is a number of landowners on the roadway. I should like to know that all roads which qualify under this Bill will also qualify for maintenance by the county council.

Senator Miss Davidson referred to another point in which I had a particular interest. I refer to the expression used in subsection (c) of section 2 regarding the definition "used by the public". This inclusion appears to be a more liberal interpretation of the qualification of the operations than that contained in the 1953 Local Government Act when we had reference to "general public utility". I should like to know from the Minister which definition will operate in relation to the take-over of roadways that have been brought up to standard. Will the description in this Bill "used by the public" be sufficient to warrant the take-over by the local authorities of those roadways?

We welcome this Bill but we are disappointed that despite the interpretation placed on it on its introduction, that in some way it meant a resumption of drainage, it would appear from statements made since, and from the more positive indication of the meagreness of the grants allocation to the county councils, that it will be a sheer impossibility for the councils to engage on drainage, seeing that the amount allocated is not sufficient even to meet the reduced expenditure on the rural improvement schemes last year.

We do not oppose the Bill but we avail of this opportunity to make these criticisms and hope that there will be re-thinking on the Minister's part and his Department relative to the two main points I have made—the inadequacy of the margin allocated for the administration of the scheme, and, secondly, and no less important, the totally inadequate amount of grants to permit the county councils to carry out the number of schemes that will be necessary, consequent on the short-fall in recent years because of the rural improvement schemes grant, to meet the new situation with the new intake of applications consequent on the introduction of this Bill.

I should like, briefly, to welcome this measure. I feel it is a wise and sensible decision to ask the local authorities or county councils to undertake this type of scheme. A great deal of useful work has been done under the Rural Improvements Scheme, and tribute must be paid to the officials of the office concerned for the very valuable schemes that have been carried out all over the country. The work can be done more efficiently and more satisfactorily at local level. A great deal of useful work will be carried out under this measure. As I have said, much useful work has been carried out under the Rural Improvements Scheme but we have the type of work such as accommodation roads that can be done by county councils as a rule. That type of work must be done under these schemes. There are quite a number of jobs remaining to be done in every county in Ireland. I speak particularly with regard to works in my own county and on behalf of Wexford County Council.

Senator O'Sullivan referred to the provision of money for those schemes. It is easier to talk about money than to provide it but I go the whole way with him on this question. It is essential that more money be provided under this measure if the necessary work is to be carried out. In Wexford we have been told we have been allocated only a small amount of money in the coming year and we have been handed down from Dublin a number of schemes which will use up far more money. The Minister, in conjunction with the Minister for Finance, who is the boss in this case, should give sympathetic consideration to appeals to make much more money available for this useful type of work.

I join in the appeal made by Senator O'Sullivan to divert the money from other projects to this most useful work. It is the most useful type of work in which county councils could engage. The work is almost as essential as the making and repairing of country and main roads. In various counties there are accommodation roads serving four, five or six families. Many are in a shocking condition and it is only under measures such as this that the work can be carried out. Such work is as important to those families as are big repair jobs on main and country roads.

Therefore, I join in the appeal to the Minister to provide more money under this measure. Senator O'Sullivan also made a point about maintenance and I agree it is something which must be considered. In many jobs carried out under the Local Authorities (Works) Act a great deal of money spent on drainage and other such schemes was wasted because no maintenance was carried out afterwards. A lot of the time of county councils will be taken up on repairs to accommodation roads but many drainage jobs will be carried out, and it is necessary that provision be made for maintenance. As I have said, the two main problems are the provision of sufficient money to carry out necessary schemes and provision for maintenance thereafter.

Ba mhaith liom, fosta, fáilte a chur roimh an mBille. Sílim go bhfuil gá mór leis. This type of consolidation of the three schemes administered by the Special Employment Office is something that was needed. Senators from rural areas know that very often under minor relief schemes certain areas were deprived of grants because there were not sufficient numbers of unemployed in them. If two of the schemes had been put together, very useful grants would have been available to help people to carry out important schemes in their areas. Though the Bog Development Scheme may be still useful, there is not the same rush to the bogs as in the past, especially by families to go to cut their own turf. There are areas in which it is still being done but in many places it has not the same appeal. The Rural Improvement Scheme worked well during the years and became of tremendous importance to many rural communities. It depended on local contributions and in many areas great work was done.

Speaking for my constituency, the greatest impetus this scheme had was when the county council decided to take over roads which had been done under the Rural Improvements Scheme. I have experience of places where local people had to make contributions on three successive occasions because the roads deteriorated quickly in modern traffic conditions. That was discouraging. I do not know what the position is throughout the country but in Cavan during the past couple of years we have decided to take over these roads. We have something like 1,400 miles of culs-de-sac and through-lanes because of the great number of lakes and mountains in our territory.

I agree with Senators who have said that that Scheme, now and in the past, has been responsible for an enormous amount of useful work being done. As the standard of living improves and as people provide themselves with better houses and better out-houses, it becomes more important that they have better lanes leading to their premises. They would all like to have county roads adjacent to their homes. The fact that they are able to get grants under this scheme to enable them to provide lanes to their homes is valuable because a would-be purchaser would naturally take into consideration access to a farm.

In my county we have been told we shall qualify for £14,000 this year and the Minister has said more or less that later he will be able to augment this when he discovers what the true position is. These grants in the past were allocated having regard to the use each county had been making of the Scheme. In some areas people were content to tell neighbours who might have liked to avail of the Scheme that they should defer a decision about local contributions because these contributions might not be called for at all later—that somebody would come along and do something without the need for local contributions. It is only right to tell the people exactly what the position is, that the local contributions are based on valuations and that where valuations are low the contributions are also low. People should be made aware that there is no hope of these things being done without local contributions. In my area people are satisfied to contribute once they know that the local authority will take over the road afterwards and maintain it. I welcome that.

Certainly, I would agree wholeheartedly with the previous speakers in an appeal for extra money. In a Scheme such as this, which would confer such immense benefit on the rural community, there is certainly a case for asking for extra money. We are all agreed that it is not possible to do all these lanes and culs-de-sac in one year. There are 91 applications with the Department from my constituency alone and, since then, we have got in an extra 62 applications. In many of these cases, the local contribution was not forwarded to the office here but it was forwarded in some cases.

In the first place, we are faced with the appointment of an engineer and a clerk to assist him with that Scheme. That will eat up part of the money. The Scheme will bring a road to the doors of certain rural people, thereby putting them on a par with people living along country and main roads. In view of recent post-primary education facilities, an increased number of children will travel these roads and there is the probability of buses and cars using them. All of that demonstrates that there is a new spirit and a new outlook in the country. In days gone by, some people were not very anxious to take electricity into their homes and were not very anxious about roads probably because they were living in a poor type of house. That has changed immensely now. In present circumstances, it is only natural that they would expect better roads. I join with other Deputies in asking the Minister if at all possible, to provide a little more.

I shall not dwell unduly on the subject of drainage. I agree with those who said that drainage without maintenance seems useless. Useful work was done under the Local Authorities (Works) Act but it was of a temporary character because there was no maintenance. It was a case of money going down the drain—that is, if the drain was able to take the money.

There is no maintenance in this.

The same argument applies now as applied then. The drainage is frequently of a minor type and is not of much use and will not be of much use until arterial drainage is carried out in certain areas. The local people, or somebody, should see to it that there is maintenance on whatever drainage is carried out as otherwise there is no use in doing the work.

I welcome the Bill. It is a step in the right direction. I am quite confident that the Minister will do his best to meet the demand that I know has been made from my constituency for some extra money to clear up part of the backlog in this connection. There was a hold-up of these schemes last year due to a temporary recession as far as money was concerned. I trust something extra will be given for the next year so as to bring us up to par from the point of view of what would otherwise have been achieved.

Possibly I may be able to give some information as to why the minor employment schemes were started. I lived with them for many years, being in charge of the county which got possibly some of the highest grants in the State. The schemes were started to give employment during the winter months on necessary and useful works which did not demand any particular planning in advance. The county councils had the staff, the quarries, the plant, the machinery and the organisation and therefore were the most suitable bodies to carry out these schemes.

I remember getting the list of minor employment schemes. We got it in September or October. Sometimes it reached a very high figure—maybe £100,000 in the county of Mayo. We had to finish these schemes by 31st March. The idea was to get as much useful work done as possible during that period and to provide maximum employment. The percentage allowed for carrying out that work was 4-1/6th. In other words, you deducted £4 from each £100 and, therefore, it was 4-1/6th per cent on £96 that you could expend. In my case, that money was divided amongst the staff of the county council dealing with the pay-sheets and pay orders, the county engineer and the county engineering staff.

After a time, the Local Authorities (Works) Act was introduced. I was in at the beginning of that scheme. I was called to a conference in the Custom House when the late Deputy T.J. Murphy, the then Minister for Local Government, who was administering that scheme, outlined what he proposed to have enacted in the Oireachtas. I happened to be spokesman for the county engineers on that occasion. I made exactly the same representations at that meeting as Deputy O'Sullivan made here today. I pointed out that, without some provision for maintenance, a lot of the money proposed to be expended under the Local Authorities (Works) Act would be wasted. That has been proved. That Act never really worked in my county because we had no outfall drains and, after a few years we had to turn from drainage work to road work. If there are Senators who will say that the Local Authorities (Works) Act was satisfactorily operated in their county, they may be speaking from experience but I have told the House what happened in my county. We wanted to use the money to the very best advantage of the people in the county and, therefore, we turned to road works because there was no other suitable work we could do under that Act.

Then the rural improvements schemes came along. They brought their own problems. It was very difficult to get all the people in any village or place to agree to make the local contribution. Those living nearest to a main road felt they had an easy approach to it and that they should not have to make a contribution, whereas people living perhaps half a mile in from the main road were most anxious that the work should be done. In many cases, works admirably suited to be done under the Rural Improvements Scheme could not be done because we could not get the people to make the local contribution.

At present, ten per cent of the sum is allowed for administration. I should like to take Senators back over this matter again. In the beginning, we got 4-1/6th per cent, that is, four per cent on the £96. Responsibility for carrying out the work rested entirely with the county engineer and the engineering staff. We had to appoint the gangers, supervisors, and all that. It was in the period of the first inter-Party Government. People will not like to hear it, but this is history as far as I am concerned that I can prove by documents. I was approached as county engineer with the demand that I should dismiss all the gangers I had and appoint gangers nominated by the inter-Party representatives. Naturally enough, I would not do that with the men who had worked for me down through the years. They had the knowledge of the work to be done and I was not going to throw them out. Finally, I was thrown out, and I was the first county engineer in Mayo from whom these schemes were taken. An independent engineering staff was set up in the county of Mayo, which was the first county in Ireland. That was all right as far as I was concerned. The work was going on, people were getting employment, and I was very happy to see that they were getting employment, but eventually the moneys began to get scarcer and the overheads remained constant with the result that instead of the 4-1/6th per cent for administration it must have gone up to 20 or 25 per cent. That is the position which, as far as I can see, is attempted to be corrected under this Bill.

I would ask the Minister particularly to see that the county engineering staff will be dealing with this and will be first satisfied. I have heard—I do not know whether it is true or not—that the county engineers are not to share in any portion of the ten per cent for administration. I think that that is wrong. I think that the county engineering staff are the proper people to do this work. They go out on their ordinary rounds, and the roads they cover from the time they leave their headquarters until they get on to the particular road under consideration for minor improvements, for Local Authorities (Works) Act or rural improvements schemes, are county council roads, roads in which they are interested and which it is their duty to supervise and examine in any case. Therefore, that part of their journeying is properly chargeable to the county council and is travel which is fully justified and gives a good return to the full advantage of the council. When they come on to the strange roads for consideration for grant or repair they are then going into strange territory but their expenses will be paid for that also. The major portion of their journey will be of use to the council rather than where you have an independent engineer travelling possibly miles out to see one of these minor improvements schemes over county council roads over which he has no control or charge or responsibility. So it is much better that the work should be carried out by the engineers of the county council. I would appeal to the Minister to see that the distribution of the percentage is made in such a way that the engineering staff will be satisfied, that is, starting with the county engineer who will have the main responsibility of coordination down to the junior engineer who will be carrying out the work on the spot.

With regard to taking over those roads, I see that provided one of those roads accommodates two houses or land belonging to two individual people or accommodates two people for the purpose of getting turbary the scheme can be done. I think that the taking over of the roads by the county council should still be governed by the 1953 Act, under which the county council can only take over a road which is of general public utility. I think that is correct, because you can have a repeat grant if the money is sufficient, but if you continue to add on miles and miles of roads which serve two people for turbary or two people for stripes of land they got from the Land Commission you will add tremendously to your county council mileage for which you will be responsible.

Generally, I am glad to see these schemes coming back again; I am very glad to see that they will be supervised and carried out in the most economical manner, and I am sure that that is the purpose of this Bill. I should like that more money would be made available. We would all agree with that, and the more that a county council in any county will get the more it will like it. I should like the Minister to see that the county engineer and his staff in every county of Ireland would take over the responsibility for doing these works and would take it on in a good spirit and with a knowledge that they were doing useful work, co-operating with the work of the council and with the people, and for that reason that they would make the little sacrifice which I think is really implied in this for the general good.

I intend to be very brief on this. I am glad to see that the Local Authorities (Works) Act is being brought back under this Bill in addition to the other schemes that were suspended and stopped for some time back. Unlike Senator Flanagan, I must say that the Local Authorities (Works) Act was very successful in Dublin County. It is a very small county, of course, and we are fairly near the coast so far as the drainage of the various streams in the county is concerned. I do think that the major weakness in the Bill now before us is the fact that there is no arrangement for maintenance of the works carried out. One example would be where money is made available, for instance, under what was previously described as the Rural Improvements Scheme for the repair and construction of a laneway. You can have a situation where that laneway is liable to be flooded frequently and under water, and every engineer knows that it is drainage that is the most important thing so far as roads are concerned to ensure that they will last a reasonably long time. If roads are not properly drained and if the water is not got off them quickly they deteriorate, and it is very important that where you have roads which may be subject to flooding there should be some arrangement regarding their maintenance to ensure that they are kept up to a certain standard.

I am in favour of the construction of roads to certain specifications. Of course, when discussing this matter I am thinking mainly of County Dublin, to which a very small grant is being made under this scheme. County Dublin would like to see the money used under this scheme in a manner that would bring the roads up to a good specification which would enable them to be taken over by the county council. We have a scheme in the county council for taking over a certain number of lanes each year by the county council. Of course, the small amount of money available leaves it that it would be another 100 years before all the lanes would be taken over in the county. This scheme should accelerate that. Unfortunately, County Dublin is very badly treated, as the Minister knows, as far as grants from the Road Fund are concerned. It is a small county, and owing to that fact the amount of money made available in the county is comparatively small compared with counties which cover very much more ground, and the amount of traffic carried by the County Dublin roads from all directions except the east is very heavy, the roads, of course, are damaged to a much greater extent than roads around the country.

Surely this is not relevant?

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

This is hardly relevant.

I mention that point because I hope that the money spent under this scheme in County Dublin will enable the laneways and roadways which benefit from it to be constructed to a specification which will enable them to be taken over by the county council. The same applies under the Rural Improvements Scheme. A number of lanes in County Dublin needed to be repaired and could have been repaired under the Rural Improvements Scheme. It will now be possible under this arrangement, if sufficient money is made available, to have those schemes carried out.

There is one thing in this Bill that I do not like. It is the fact that it will impose a burden on the ratepayers. In the ordinary way there is an allocation available for the expenses of operating these schemes but when a scheme is completed and the roadway is constructed or the drainage done it will be necessary for the ratepayers to contribute towards the maintenance of these roadways and the work actually carried out under this scheme just because there is no maintenance clause in this Bill. That is a major weakness. At this stage I do not know whether the Minister has power to do so, but I think he should take another look at it and see whether it is possible to ensure that maintenance will be done. It was a weakness in the Local Authorities (Works) Act and Senator Flanagan demonstrated that.

As it is 6 o'colck, I wonder will the Seanad make a decision as to what it would wish?

As the Minister has other commitments at 6 o'clock, I suggest we adjourn until 7 o'clock.

I am finishing at this stage if the Minister would like to conclude.

The only thing is that I was going to ask for all Stages.

The Minister intended to request all Stages?

All right. We will agree to give him all Stages but that is dependent on satisfaction regarding the expression "used by the public".

I do not know. Whatever the Seanad wishes.

The Chair is in the hands of the House.

We had better come back.

Business suspended at 6.5 p.m. and resumed at 7 p.m.

A number of Senators referred to the Local Authorities (Works) Act and seemed to think that there was some similarity between that Act and this Bill. In fact, there is not. I cannot see where this similarity arises. I had the same thing in the Dáil. It seems to me that there is something of a decision in the Opposition Parties to make it appear that this is, in fact, getting back to the Local Authorities (Works) Act.

This is, as I pointed out, an amalgamation of three different schemes which up to now have been carried on by the Special Employment Schemes Office which has become the Special Employment Schemes Section of my Department. The Local Authorities (Works) Act dealt almost completely with drainage. This scheme, which is an amalgamation of three former schemes, will deal mainly with laneways or byroads and a certain amount of very minor drainage indeed will be dealt with under the scheme. There can be no comparison at all with the type of work under the Local Authorities (Works) Act. In fact, the Government have no intention whatever of getting back to the Local Authorities (Works) Act which had, I think, a number of faults.

One of the faults was referred to here. There was no maintenance provided for under that scheme. The type of drainage which was done mainly under the Local Authorities (Works) Act was the type of drainage in which it is necessary to provide for maintenance unlike the type of drainage which will be done under this scheme. As I say, only a small percentage of the work will be drainage. It will be merely dealing with small drains serving a few farms and it will be work of the type which will appropriately be the responsibility of the landowners who will be served. The carrying out of this type of maintenance will be well within their scope.

I do not know that there is much point in going into detail with regard to the Local Authorities (Works) Act. One of the major faults we saw with it was that, generally speaking, the schemes which were carried out under it were based on completely inadequate surveys and they were the type of schemes in which the only really adequate survey would be that of the whole catchment area of the river concerned. I suppose there was a certain amount of valuable work done in some areas but in other areas there was a certain amount of work done which would have been better left undone. Some of the work done, because there was not an adequate survey, caused more serious problems further down the river.

There are a number of schemes under which drainage work can be undertaken at present but I do not think it is really relevant for me to go into them now under this Bill. I just want to point out that this is by no means comparable with the Local Authorities (Works) Act. It is for a different purpose entirely and the type of drainage work which will be done under it is work which can quite appropriately be maintained by people who will benefit under it.

With regard to the maintenance of roads and laneways, which will be dealt with under this scheme, Senator Flanagan dealt very well with that aspect. He made it quite clear that if the local authorities were to undertake the maintenance of all those laneways it would place an intolerable burden on the ratepayers and the inevitable result would be that roads of much greater utility would suffer. Those roads and laneways generally will be ones on which traffic will be small and the rate of deterioration will be much lower. As Senator Flanagan pointed out, they can qualify for another grant, if and when necessary.

With regard to the taking over of the roadways, this is a matter for the county councils concerned. They have to decide on the basis of the facts applying to a particular case: first of all, whether the road has a public right-of-way over it, and, secondly, whether it is of general public utility. This is really a matter for the road authority itself to decide.

If we were to extend the definition of a public road it would merely add to the problem of dealing with existing public roads, which I think have in justice a priority over roads that are of lesser utility. But, this Bill will make it possible for the county council to deal with all the roads, some of them as public roads and others under this scheme. I do not think there is any general demand for the substitution of the words "used by the public" for "general public utility" and, in any case, it would be completely outside the scope of this Bill to make such an amendment. Between this Bill and the Local Government Act all roads will now be covered and can be dealt with by the local authority.

Senator O'Sullivan, as well as other Senators, referred to what he described as the meagreness of the grants that had been notified for the coming year. A number of Senators pressed for higher grants. It was made absolutely clear to each local authority that the amounts notified were purely provisional and that, in fact, the amount of money that would be available for this purpose had not been decided at all yet. These were amounts that generally related to the work done in the particular counties over the last five years, and they were based on the total figure that was available last year of £350,000: but the amount that will be available this year has not been decided at all yet. That was made quite clear to each county council and it was made quite clear in the Dáil.

These are only notional figures based on the assumption that the amount will be the same as last year. That has not been decided and the figure that will be available will not be fixed until the Estimates are published. There is no reason for anybody to assume that these amounts will be the actual amounts that will be notified.

You could push it up.

Will it be less?

That remains to be seen. My own guess is it will be very safe to assume that it will not be less. The question of the proposed ten per cent allowance for administrative costs was referred to by Senator O'Sullivan who suggested that this might be a hidden attempt to transfer the cost to the councils. I do not think that is likely to eventuate at all. I did point out in introducing the Bill that one of the main reasons for this was to arrange that the greatest possible amount of the total sum available would be used to carry out this very necessary work and that one of the big advantages in this proposal would be a reduction in administrative costs.

As Senator Flanagan also remarked, the administrative costs at present are something of the order of 25 per cent and this, of course, is because a special organisation had to be set up to deal with this particular type of work all over the country. Surely it is reasonable to expect that with the more rational type of administration we are proposing now it should be possible to achieve a considerable saving in overheads. I think it is in the interests of everybody that the maximum possible saving should be achieved.

I suppose it is not unnatural for local authorities to represent that ten per cent is likely to prove too low but it is only by experience that we can find out if that will, in fact, be the case. I think it should be feasible, indeed, to do this on the basis of ten per cent. As Senator Flanagan pointed out, when this type of work was done before the percentage taken off for administration was much lower. In any case, I think every public representative, whether county councillor or Deputy or Senator, should make every effort to ensure that this will be given a fair trial and that every effort will be made to work it within this percentage for administration. I do not think that anybody is doing a service to the people who would benefit from this by suggesting there should be a higher percentage of the limited amount of money available devoted to administration.

Senator O'Sullivan asked whether it would be possible to deal with spur roads leading off laneways. This will be possible. The county council can make the scheme for the whole lane, including spurs. There are grants available under the Department of Agriculture for roads serving only one holding and in the case of a laneway with a branch or a spur leading off to one holding or house the scheme can be made for the whole laneway and the fact that a road serving can only be dealt with under this scheme will not be relevant.

The question of the fees to be paid to local authority engineers was raised. My Parliamentary Secretary received a deputation from the county engineers on this matter and the question is being examined. I cannot make a final statement on it at this stage. I do not think it is necessary to have a final decision for the purposes of the Bill because the power of local authorities to pay remuneration to their officials, including fees, is contained in the Local Government Act, 1931. I am confident that we shall be able to work out an acceptable solution to the question of fees for county council engineers.

The only other point I wish to refer to is the question of the scale of contributions. Senator O'Sullivan mentioned that the new scale will be higher in the case of some valuations. That is correct but in order to present the true picture I should point out that it is only in cases where the average rateable valuation is more than £75 that this will be so—that the new scale will be higher than the old. I do not think it is inappropriate that that should be so. After all, the rate of contributions in the case of low valuations will be considerably lower than the old scale and it is only reasonable that where the average valuation is higher the scale should be somewhat higher.

In actual fact, it is mainly lower valuation farms which will be involved. The position is that the old scale in the case of valuations of less than £5 was 10 per cent. Under this scheme the rate will be 2½ per cent. In the case of valuations of between £5 and £7, the rate was 12½ per cent. It will now be 5 per cent. On valuations between £7 and £10 it was 15 per cent and it will be 10 per cent; between £10 and £15, the old rate was 20 per cent and it will be 15 per cent; between £15 and £25 the rate was 25 per cent and the new rate will be 20 per cent; between £25 and £50, the old scale was 30 per cent and the new scale will also be 30 per cent; between £50 and £75, the old scale was 40 per cent and the new scale will be 40 per cent; between £75 and £100 the old scale was 40 per cent and it will be 50 per cent; and for valuations of more than £100, the old scale was 50 per cent and the new scale will be 60 per cent. It is only in cases where the average valuation is more than £75 that the new scale will be higher than the old and I think there are comparatively few cases in which these schemes will be undertaken in such circumstances. In those cases it is reasonable to require a substantial contribution. In every case where the valuation is less than £25 the new scale will be lower than the old and in cases where the valuation is between £25 and £75 there will be no change.

Question put and agreed to.