Private Deputies' Business. - Construction and Maintenance of Main Roads—Motion.

Wednesday, 7 March 1945

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 96 No. 9

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[962]Mr. Finucane: Information on Patrick Finucane  Zoom on Patrick Finucane  I move the following motion which appears on the Order Paper in the names of Deputy Beirne and myself:—

That, in view of the fact that main roads throughout the country are now national highways and arteries of transport, Dáil Eireann is of opinion that their construction and maintenance should be made a national charge.

At present, the main roads are maintained by a 60 per cent. charge on rates and a 40 per cent. contribution from the national fund. We hold that the construction and maintenance of main roads should be a national charge because they are of national importance, in peace time for ordinary transport and in war time for defence. The quality and condition of these roads vary from county to county, getting worse towards the west. The tourist is unaware of this. He realises that only when he is on an inferior highway. He does not know that he has crossed into another county. This variation cannot be removed under the present system because counties differ in wealth. The only way to get roads of uniform high quality is to make the Central Fund responsible for their construction and maintenance. In view of the importance of tourist traffic, post-war, this is most urgent. A 60 per cent. charge on the ratepayers is an unfair burden, especially when you consider that the bulk of the population is agricultural. The amount which they pay for road maintenance is disproportionate to the benefit they receive. In Kerry, one of the greatest tourist counties in Ireland, the sum of 7/6 in the £ was allocated last year for roads from a rate of 23/- in the £, and yet the Kerry roads are the worst in Ireland, particularly those in North Kerry. I do not know if the proposed scheme for the construction of a network of main roads will be financed out of the Central Fund. It certainly could not be met out of the rates. I would like to have an assurance from the Minister that the charge will be made a national one. It is time [963] that it was no longer left as a local liability.

Mr. Beirne: Information on John Beirne Snr.  Zoom on John Beirne Snr.  I second the motion. As a member of a dissolved body— the Roscommon County Council—I cannot envisage what the result of the motion will be as far as the Parliamentary Secretary is concerned. I hope that in regard to this motion he will not display the same vindictiveness as the Minister displayed in the case of Roscommon. Deputy Finucane and myself are sponsoring this motion in a spirit of sincerity. I do not intend to waste the time of the House discussing the merits or demerits of the action of the Minister in dissolving the Roscommon County Council. I know that he has been uncharitable to us here in the House by some uncomplimentary remarks which he passed during my absence. I hope to have another opportunity of making an ample reply to those charges.

The main roads must be considered as part of our national capital. Their use is not confined to the local inhabitants. They are the channels of transport for the whole country, and, therefore, their upkeep and maintenance should be a national charge. Under the present system of upkeep and maintenance, it is impossible to assign to each local area the benefit it derives from good main roads. It is impossible to assess in money the advantages which a local area receives and which an outside area receives. It is impossible to assess what part of the burden each should bear, because it must be realised that costs should have some relation to the benefit derived. Therefore, I think that the main roads and highways should be made a Central Fund charge.

It is the policy of the Government at the present time to keep the main roads in as good condition as possible. The Government have stipulated on various occasions that these roads should reach a certain standard of perfection. Orders are given to the local authority by the Government. It is told that it must do so-and-so with certain roads. Naturally, the people who give those orders should shoulder [964] the responsibility, as far as the financial side is concerned. I do not wish to revert again to the County Roscommon, but I will give the House an instance of what happened in Roscommon in order to vindicate, as far as possible, the action of the Roscommon County Council——

Minister for Local Government and Public Health (Mr. MacEntee): Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  On a point of order——

Mr. Beirne: Information on John Beirne Snr.  Zoom on John Beirne Snr.  I will stick to the motion as far as possible.

Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  On the point of order, the attitude of the Roscommon County Council in relation to the county roads was the subject of a sworn inquiry which could be raised and, if my recollection is correct, was raised on the Estimates for my Department in 1944. I submit to the Chair that it is not in order to raise that matter now.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Eamonn O'Neill  Zoom on Eamonn O'Neill  It is outside the terms of this motion.

Mr. Beirne: Information on John Beirne Snr.  Zoom on John Beirne Snr.  I wish, with your permission, to take it in this way.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Eamonn O'Neill  Zoom on Eamonn O'Neill  The Deputy can refer to it in connection with the motion but must not develop it.

Mr. Beirne: Information on John Beirne Snr.  Zoom on John Beirne Snr.  I will not treat it specifically. I will do it in a more general way. I propose to read a small paragraph from a circular which was issued by the Department of Local Government and Public Health in order to convey to the House how utterly impossible it is for county councils to function in respect to road estimates. That being so, the county council cannot handle these questions efficiently, owing to the action of the Minister. They are not the deciding factor. If they say the roads are quite good enough for the people and, if the Minister decides otherwise, the Minister's ruling must prevail.

I shall deal with this in a general way. Some considerable time ago a circular was issued by the Minister's Department in which it was stated:—

“The elected representatives are [965] given by the Act of 1945 powers in connection with the exercise by the county manager of executive functions. The manager is bound by the decisions of the elected body on the provision made by them in the annual estimates and save with their consent he cannot exceed the total amount provided by them for any particular purpose. He must, whenever requested by the local authority, furnish all information in his possession or procurable concerning any business of the authority.”

I want to point out to the House the ridiculous position that county councils find themselves in at the present moment. If county councils decide that the roads in their county fulfil the requirements of the local ratepayers or inhabitants, and if they are not desirous of spending more money on the roads, if the Minister decides otherwise, the county council ceases automatically to function.

It is a fact that the areas where roads are most in need of repair are, generally speaking, the poorer areas, mountain and bog areas. In the latter case heavy rains and frosts have a detrimental effect on the roads. In the case of bogs it is most difficult and expensive to make the roads suitable to the trades carried on in the area. I do not think it is logical to put a heavier financial burden on poorer areas than is imposed in the rich, flat counties where the surface of the roads wears longer.

During the emergency the Minister and several of his colleagues on the Government Benches stated, on more than one occasion, that our main roads are now considered of national strategic importance for defence purposes. Therefore, there is every reason to put these roads, as far as maintenance and upkeep is concerned, on the same basis as our Defence Forces. From that point of view, I think it is ridiculous to make the upkeep and maintenance of main roads a local charge. It would be just as ridiculous to ask each county to raise, maintain and equip its own army, navy or air force. That is a point which should [966] be stressed and which should appeal to the Minister.

I maintain, and I am sure the majority of Deputies agree with me, that Córas Iompair Éireann will have a monopoly of the road services of this country. Roads must be raised to a standard to cope with this heavy traffic, which will be greater than the normal traffic has been for the last nine or ten years. In equity, the railways, or at least the Government, who have been responsible for the passage of the Transport Bill through the House, should finance main roads. Córas Iompair Éireann will be the largest user of roads. The private user, the man with the ass and cart, the man with the horse and cart, will not be so destructive of the roads. I think it is logical and reasonable to expect the Government to accept the full burden and responsibility of the maintenance and upkeep of main roads.

In the year 1940 the amount collected and placed to the Road Fund from road tax, petrol tax and other duties, amounted to something over £3,000,000. That was not an abnormal year. It was fairly normal. We were not then in the throes of a world-wide conflict. As far as I can ascertain— I may not be correct in my figures— the expenditure on roads in that year was in the neighbourhood of £1,700,000. That leaves a wide margin between income and expenditure. The Minister may ask me where the money is to come from but where you had an income of £3,000,000 in 1940 and an expenditure of £1,700,000 there is a nice margin for the maintenance of the roads.

I earnestly appeal to the Minister to give this motion his favourable consideration. All Deputies will agree that it is a reasonable motion, put forward in a spirit of sincerity. I hope I am correct in anticipating that the Minister will accept this motion, in view of the fact that we are approaching what may be termed the post-war period, when reconstruction of roads must reach elaborate proportions, when roads must be made for the pedestrian, the cyclist and the motorist. Now is the time to start. I do not think the [967] motion is premature, and I heartily commend it to the Minister.

Mr. D. Morrissey: Information on Daniel Morrissey  Zoom on Daniel Morrissey  I should like to support the principle of this motion. I cannot altogether agree with either the proposer or the seconder. While it is quite true, unfortunately, that some of the main and trunk roads are in a very bad condition—and that is probably true of the counties where the roads should be in the best possible condition, the tourist and holiday counties —I think that, to some extent anyway, if not to a large extent, their present state is due to neglect in the past, or because the local authorities in the past were not prepared to make the necessary provision for the upkeep of the roads.

The principle in the motion is one which I have favoured for a great number of years. I think it is more essential now than ever. I do not believe that the Minister or any member of the House believes that we can face the future, in view of the immense expansion there will be in heavy road transport, having our main and trunk roads financed in the way they have been financed in the past. It is essential that they should be uniformly good over every county. Undoubtedly there is a good deal in what has been said, that it is much more expensive to construct a main or trunk road in certain counties than in others. Undoubtedly, it is much more expensive to maintain main or trunk roads in certain counties, owing to a variety of reasons, the principal one being availability of material.

The emergency has created special problems so far as the maintenance of roads is concerned, and I can imagine a county like Kerry being particularly hard hit, where there is a large number of heavy lorries carrying turf out of the county to practically the whole of the south of Ireland, over roads that were never constructed to carry such heavy loads. Similarly, in other parts of the country converging on the beet factories, there is a strain being put on roads that they were never intended to bear. I know that the Minister can say in reply that perhaps it would pay [968] the people in Kerry to maintain the roads because of the immense sale of turf that is taking place down there. That is beside the point.

Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  That is the very point.

Mr. D. Morrissey: Information on Daniel Morrissey  Zoom on Daniel Morrissey  Shall I say that it is beside the main point? I want to hear the Minister's own idea about main and trunk roads. The Minister told us, not here but in another place, about the very ambitious plans that he had for main and trunk roads, plans so wide and so grand that I began to wonder whether——

Mr. MacEntee: Information on Seán MacEntee  Zoom on Seán MacEntee  All of which was put before the Dáil.

Mr. D. Morrissey: Information on Daniel Morrissey  Zoom on Daniel Morrissey  I am glad that there are some important proposals still mentioned in the Dáil before they are mentioned in places outside. Does the Minister contend that we can build and maintain trunk roads to carry the traffic of the future if they are financed in the way they have been financed in the past? The Minister knows far better than I do that trunk roads, main roads, or any county roads for that matter, have not been receiving for the past five years the attention that they normally would receive. He knows that most of the road staffs of the various counties, instead of being employed on the roads, are employed on the bogs. He is well aware that the most important of the road-making materials required for proper road making are not available to-day. The Minister is aware—I will be surprised if he has not plans made already—that very large sums of money will have to be spent on the construction of main and trunk roads when the war is over. I am sure the Minister has been advised by his experts long before this that, so far as roads running over or through bogs are concerned, as many of our main and trunk roads do, these roads will have to be put down in concrete in the future; that they are no longer able to carry heavy lorries, some of them carrying up to ten or 15 tons and some of them, with trailers attached, carrying more. The whole point seems to [969] me to come to the question of whether, with all the talk we have about grandiose post-war plans, with the Minister's idea of a sort of huge roadway with three roads in one, he thinks these are to be financed by the local authorities, plus the Road Fund and plus something else. Incidentally, I should like the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary to say whether the figures given by the proposer and the seconder of the motion are correct; whether the 60 per cent. for main roads, the £3,000,000 for 1940 and the expenditure of £1,700,000 are correct. I think the principle of the motion is a sound one. It is one that will have to be accepted, if not now, certainly in the very near future. I do not doubt for a moment that the Minister has probably made up his mind on that matter already, even if he is not prepared to admit it in reply to a motion such as this.

Mr. Heskin: Information on Denis Heskin  Zoom on Denis Heskin  Like other Deputies, I believe that local authorities will find it very difficult to carry out the construction and repair of roads when you take into consideration that many pieces of legislation have been passed and handed over to the local authorities to operate with a consequent increase in the rates generally. As has been suggested, I believe that the main roads should be a national charge. Moneys coming from the Central Fund, which have been subscribed by tourists in many ways, would help to finance the maintenance of such roads. Even in my own county, where we have very nearly the best roads in Ireland, we find it very difficult to provide adequate funds this year to keep the roads up to the standard at which they were being kept heretofore. During the emergency we were not able to provide sufficient funds for that purpose, and we were unable to provide sufficient material to keep the roads in good condition. By having the roads maintained out of State funds the local authorities would have an opportunity of providing better secondary roads and of constructing boreens and so on which would be of benefit to the farmers and the ratepayers generally. Like other Deputies, I hold that as [970] time goes on the ratepayers will be unable to bear the burden that will be placed on them for the maintenance of the roads.

Quite recently we passed a new Transport Bill through this House and no provision was made in that for the maintenance of the main roads, even though everybody will admit that after the emergency possibly 90 per cent. of the traffic in this country will be on the public highways. The new company will utilise the roads for buses and heavy goods-carrying vehicles, and it is unfair to expect local authorities, even with the grant they get from the Central Fund, to maintain these roads in a condition suitable to carry such traffic. As Deputy Morrissey said, there is increased traffic on the roads due to the production of turf. The effect of the carrying of that turf on the roads places a very heavy burden on the rates. The roads are not in a condition to stand up to that traffic. The same thing applies to sugar beet. The roads adjacent to the sugar factories are in a very bad state of repair and the local authorities responsible for the maintenance of such roads either have to increase the rates or leave some other roads unattended to in order to provide the money to keep the main roads in first- class condition. For that reason, I think the Minister would do a very good day's work by relieving the local authorities of responsibility for the maintenance of the main roads. Every county council has more than its share to bear in providing finances for social services and for the maintenance of the other roads without having to maintain the main roads in the manner expected of them.

Mr. O'Donnell: Information on William Francis O'Donnell  Zoom on William Francis O'Donnell  I welcome this motion as it is a constructive one. The great idea is to help the Minister, and also to help ourselves. God helps those who help themselves. After living here in the city for many years, when I went home I saw the main roads being reconstructed, particularly the Dublin-Cork road. I think the cost of that road was £965 per statute mile. The reconstruction of these roads [971] helped the tourist traffic. When the motorists came, the unfortunate people living on the trunk roads soon found a grievance. We know that originally there were four main roads from Tara —north, south, east, and west, and other roads were gradually evolved from them. I suppose Dublin had only a few thousand of population, and that the present provincial towns were mere hamlets. The roads were built by the men on the land, and they have first claim on them. However, the Seventh Commandment has not been rigidly observed, and the roads have been stolen. I do not object to the motorists having proper roads. We hear a lot about the new wide ones, and that railway traffic may become less and less. Obviously, the roads are very important arteries of the nation. I enjoy a run in a motor car as much as anybody else, and am not anti-motor in any sense. When these new roads come to be constructed, I suggest that if they are three widths of a bus in the middle, a width and a half should be left at either side, with a surface to suit the quadruped traffic. We had no right to spend huge sums in making the roads an El Dorado for the motorist. I know the main road from Dublin to Cork, where it enters Tipperary at Longford Pass, and leaves at Mitchelstown, and there is not a quarter of a mile of it where there was not a skull broken, or horses' knees broken. I had the experience myself when I had a flashy American trotter. I could handle the reins pretty well, and was going to the fair at Clonmel. But the next thing was that I woke up in a local hospital. I thought I was in heaven, until I saw the gentleman with the white coat.

General MacEoin: Information on General Seán MacEoin  Zoom on General Seán MacEoin  Was it going to the fair or coming home?

Mr. O'Donnell: Information on William Francis O'Donnell  Zoom on William Francis O'Donnell  I was going in. Most of the vices are strongly developed within me, but drunkenness is not one of them. Then we have what we call “boxes” and the shafts have been broken. In dray-carts the horses' knees have been smashed, and my own skull, [972] too. I had eight stitches put in. It solved one problem for me: I found a wooden head was very useful. A lot of farmers live on the main roads. I live on a sub-main road, but have some land bordering on the main road. When you take out a horse to bring a creel of pigs or a few sheep in the car, you may wake up in Heaven before you get home.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Allen): Information on Denis Allen  Zoom on Denis Allen  Would the Deputy come down to the motion?

Mr. O'Donnell: Information on William Francis O'Donnell  Zoom on William Francis O'Donnell  I was nearly motionless as a result of the motion I am dealing with. On the main roads there are loads of filth and dirt and a Yankee drew my attention to it. He said it would come out 10 times over. The mud is put in 40 times by the men and pushed out again by the cattle and motors. That is not good business nor is it economic. Deputy Morrissey suggested that roads cost a good deal for one reason or another. The Curragh road has a bog foundation and concrete is the only thing for that, as the ordinary macadamised road will not take the strain. The beet factories bring extra traffic to the roads. We have one in Thurles and our roads are suffering as a result. We want to give the Minister every help in regard to this matter and to deal with it in a friendly way. We want to make Ireland the El Dorado for the tourists as every pound that comes in will be useful. The tourists are welcome, but we should make the roads passable for the ordinary men who originally built them, and from whom they were stolen. Most Deputies are quite friendly in this matter and, with the proposer and seconder of the motion, are anxious to help the Minister in any way possible.

Mr. Cafferky: Information on Dominick Cafferky  Zoom on Dominick Cafferky  This motion is one which should be accepted generally by all Parties, as most Deputies realise that in their own counties there is a continual increase in the rates. Some increases can be understood, but it is hard for the average farmer to agree to an increase in order to widen roads to facilitate motorists or tourists, particularly when he has to shoulder the expense out of his own pocket. Often the local councillor has to make an unles [973] fair attack upon the county surveyor, who is only carrying out his duty when he widens a road or cuts off a dangerous corner. He has to do that and the ratepayer has to pay for it. I come from a county that is very badly treated as regards roads. Under the first period of reconstruction after we achieved our independence in this part of Ireland, the foundation was not laid properly. We find to-day that if these roads are to be built on the lines visualised by the Minister, we shall have to lay completely new foundations. We shall have to widen and strengthen them, have bridges rebuilt and corners cut and many other things done which were not thought of when the roads were constructed under a previous Administration.

I noticed during my travels through County Mayo many examples of what I would consider wasteful expenditure. I regard them as wasteful, because I know that the ratepayers are not in a position to meet this heavy expenditure. For instance, the county surveyor may start a new road or remove a corner and he branches off in a certain direction to make another road straighter. I have seen where some thousands of pounds have been spent and when the work is completed we find a corner is still as dangerous as ever or a road is too narrow to meet modern traffic conditions. In some cases bridges and walls that were erected had to be knocked down in order to widen the road. That sort of thing naturally annoys the ratepayers. We feel that the present system of road construction in our county—and I expect it is the same in other counties —will not be sufficient to meet modern traffic and the roads will have to be reconstructed—rebuilt, widened and corners cut.

To expect the ratepayers to meet two-thirds of the cost of that work is expecting too much. Even assuming the State will meet one-third of the expenditure, the ratepayers will not be able to pay the balance because they have to contribute to many other social services. As Deputy Beirne and other Deputies pointed out, we have a very heavy rainfall along the western seaboard and that is detrimental to [974] the roads in so far as it tends to wear down the road surfaces. When a pothole occurs it may be small at first, not much bigger than the palm of one's hand, but cars and lorries help to widen it in a very short time and then the weather affects it considerably and it increases in size until it becomes quite formidable.

We find in Mayo that in order to keep the roads up to an efficient standard the rates are increasing to such an extent that we will soon be paying 20/- in the £. I wonder how the ratepayers are to face that, in addition to shouldering other heavy burdens? We must take into consideration the poor, economic circumstances of many parts of Mayo, as well as many parts of Galway, West Roscommon, parts of Sligo and other neighbouring counties. We must remember that in many of the Midland counties the people are wealthier; they have fertile lands and the rates are only half what they are in County Mayo. When we realise that, we see there is every argument for more equitable treatment for people in a county like Mayo. We realise that the people generally are not equitably shouldering the burden, and they should do so. If we had a national scheme of road construction the burden would be equally shared.

No doubt the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have difficulties confronting them, but I believe that if they accept this motion their difficulties will become less. When a county council, which is vested with certain authority, opposes an increase in an estimate brought forward by the county manager or the secretary, we find the Minister is the very gentleman who will order the abolition of that council. He feels they are not entitled to oppose an estimate, as the roads must be kept in proper repair and are important so far as the defence of the country is concerned. I quite agree that the roads are important in that connection. I venture to say that in Germany to-day the roads are playing a more important part than the railway system. Where the railway termini are destroyed, the roads have to carry all the transport. [975] Therefore, I fully appreciate the Minister's point that we must keep the roads in proper repair, irrespective of cost. But if we consider it necessary to have great modern highways constructed along Continental lines, it is too bad to expect the poor, simple ratepayers to bear the burden.

I agree that to keep the types of roads we have in this country in an efficient condition would certainly cost a very large sum. I am convinced that if we are to present this country to the outer world as an attractive country for tourists, who may be desirous of visiting it after the war and who may not be desirous of visiting France or Germany or other countries because of the devastation and the difficulty of transport that will continue there for many years, it will mean the expenditure of vast sums of money. Foreigners may like to visit this country to see for themselves a land which has not been touched by war to the same extent as Continental countries. There are many outsiders who would like to travel through this country, to see the people who remained out of the war. If we are to make the country attractive and construct good roads so as to receive these people properly, then I contend the expense of that can more properly be borne by the Minister. He should accept this motion and arrange that the necessary funds will come out of the national Exchequer and that the people generally will share the responsibility for the maintenance of the roads.

If the money necessary for drainage, rural electrification and other important developments is to come out of the Central Fund, I think the highways of the country should be put on the same basis. I support the Minister and the Government when they say that we should have modern highways. I fully support any Government, irrespective of their political outlook, when they advocate up-to-date highways and generally improved conditions. I want to see in this country the best type of roads, good motor roads, good side paths and proper roads for horse vehicles. I am not opposed to that idea of modern [976] development. Where I disagree with the Minister is when he expects local authorities to foot two-thirds of the bill.

In Westmeath the rates are 11/6 in the £; in Kildare they are 14/- or 15/- in the £; in Kerry they are 24/3 in the £; and, in my own county, the day is dawning when they will be £1 in the £. I do not suggest that the money is spent extravagantly, but I am suggesting that the people will not be able to continue to carry this burden, and I feel that the easier way of dealing with it is that road construction should be made a national charge in the same way as drainage, rural electrification and other important undertakings on which we expect to embark in the post-war period.

This is not a political motion. It is not put down for the purpose of getting publicity. We are far away from an election and we do not expect an election to-morrow or in 12 months' time. This is something put down in all sincerity, something about which I believe members on the Government Benches hold the same view as I hold, that they cannot continue going to their local authority and voting for an annual increase in the estimates, that they must cry halt, that they must draw the line and that the only way in which that line can be drawn and that halt brought about is by asking the State to shoulder the responsibility on a broader basis and to undertake the upkeep of these roads, because the State benefits from it. It is not so much the poor local farmer as the wealthier classes who benefit. There are wealthy classes in this country who can afford to be taxed still further. I have heard Ministers say that the wealthier classes are taxed to the limit, but I maintain that there are wealthy people in the country who are not yet sufficiently taxed. I can go into hotels in the city and see well-to-do old ladies going to ballroom dances, engineers' dinners and functions of the kind wearing bouquets which cost 30/-. These people can afford to pay an increased surtax, income-tax or any other tax from which we can derive the necessary finance to maintain these roads. There are people who are [977] escaping and who should be forced to share with the ordinary poor people this burden which we are carrying to-day.

Mr. D. Morrissey: Information on Daniel Morrissey  Zoom on Daniel Morrissey  What about the Minister intervening? He usually has a lot to say.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Local Government and Public Health (Mr. Childers): Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  I think we must try in connection with this resolution to relieve our minds of certain false assumptions when discussing the question of whether the ratepayers or the State should bear a certain proportion of the money for road maintenance. The motion was proposed by a Deputy from a county whose local representatives have failed utterly to carry out their responsibilities during past years, and who, for four years, reduced their contribution towards road maintenance from £40,000 to £2,000, until the Minister had to take drastic action. It should be noted that there are other counties in which there are administrations largely composed of farmers, counties which have been considered poor in comparison with other counties, counties in which there are not the same attractions from the tourist standpoint, which have never failed to carry out their responsibilities, which have never failed to vote a proper sum for road maintenance. I think there is some significance in the fact that this resolution was proposed by a Deputy from that county, but as members of the Farmers' Party are putting this motion forward with rather a tentative air, not feeling very sure of themselves, asking for information and saying they would like to co-operate with the Minister in a discussion of this problem, I propose to discuss the resolution from every angle and I hope that such observations as I am able to make will be of value to the House, because we very rarely have an opportunity of discussing problems such as road maintenance.

The motion is based on a number of what I think are false conceptions. The first is that travel on main roads in a particular county is, to a considerable degree, non-county in character. The [978] assumption is made that people in Galway, for example, are not using the main roads for their own private purposes, that they are not using them to move from one town to another. Another assumption made is that no one in County Galway leaves County Galway, goes to some other county and makes use of another county's roads. A third factor of great importance is that the assumption is made that local interests have no national significance. Is it suggested, for example, that we should stop cutting turf in Kerry because the rate payers in Kerry find it difficult to bear the cost of repairing the roads? Is it suggested that reasonable, or even very modest, profits are not being made in cutting turf in Kerry from which can be deducted the necessary sums in the form of a local contribution, heavily supplemented by a State contribution, for the repair of the roads carrying that turf? Is it suggested that we should have considered seriously the location of the sugar factories because of the heavy expenditure of money on repairing roads used by the lorries carrying beet?

There are a great many factors which we have to consider before we can judge the truth of the issue. The main problem involved is whether we should transfer expenditure from local funds to central funds. I do not want to enter into the discussion which we have had frequently here with regard to the general problem of derating and so forth, but it is essential to say at this point that the transfer of that part of the rate which goes towards road maintenance to the Central Fund does not mean that the farmers will not eventually bear the cost of the roads in the same way. In fact, I might point out with some irony that if we were to do that, we might well start to consider taxing sugar in order to pay for the repair of the roads carrying beet. It may sound fantastic, but if money is to be found from central sources in order to maintain the main roads, where are we to find it? It is by no means a fanciful statement to suggest that we should have complaints from the Farmers' Party that the farmer consumers of sugar were paying a tax in order to repair the roads. We might [979] equally tax the farmers' tobacco which, God knows, is already expensive enough——

Mr. D. Morrissey: Information on Daniel Morrissey  Zoom on Daniel Morrissey  Do not forget tea.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  ——in order to repair the roads carrying turf. I understand that farmers have not over-complained so far about the modest or the large sums they have been able to make out of cutting turf. It is a very dangerous principle to assume that the transfer of local taxes means eventually that farmers will escape their responsibilities. They are the principal body of citizens in the country and if we pile additional taxation on to persons who are supposed to be non-farmers in the case of direct taxes, we will find that, in one way or another, a good deal of the taxation will go back to the farmer again.

Leaving aside these general principles, let us consider the resolution in more detail. There are roughly 50,000 miles of roads in this country. Of these, 10,000 miles consist of main roads and the remaining 40,000 miles of roads which are not considered vital arteries of traffic. If we reduced the 10,000 miles to the barest minimum from the standpoint of the ultimate importance to what might be described as the person travelling nationally, we will find that there are at least 1,500 miles of very important arterial roads.

The State at the present time contributes nearly the whole of the cost of the improvement of main roads, that is to say, the cost of the major reconstruction of such roads, and gives 40 per cent. towards the maintenance of main roads. We believe that represents an adequate contribution by the State to the local authorities. In support of that, I would like to give the House a few figures. On the occasion of a former debate here some Deputies complained that we were too statistical. Well, I hope that, in connection with the roads, we shall not be accused of that, because if we talk about roads and taxation we must get to grips with the actual problem. In the period 1932 to 1942 there was a total expenditure of some £25,000,000 [980] on roads of which all, but a very small fraction of under £1,000,000, was current expenditure. Road Fund grants for improvements, plus Road Fund grants towards maintenance, totalled some £8,500,000. In addition to that, a sum of over £3,000,000 was made available for expenditure for the provision of employment. Thus there was a total of over £11,000,000 as State contribution, compared with a total expenditure of £25,000,000. Owing to relief grants, there was a considerable increase in the proportion of State contribution, as compared with the previous ten years. I will not trouble the House with the details, but it may be stated that, whereas £11,000,000 out of £25,000,000 represented the State contribution in the period 1932 to 1942, in the previous period, from 1922 to 1932, out of a total expenditure of some £23,000,000, the State contributed £8,000,000. Therefore, this Government——

Mr. D. Morrissey: Information on Daniel Morrissey  Zoom on Daniel Morrissey  Would the Parliamentary Secretary say how much of the £11,000,000 came out of the Motor Taxation Fund?

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  I am not sure that I can give the figures globally, but I will give some indication of them. I will do my best to satisfy the Deputy.

Mr. Hughes: Information on James Hughes  Zoom on James Hughes  What was the amount of the increase in the fund?

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  I will deal with that. I would ask Deputies to bear in mind that I am trying to deal with the matter in detail, and that I am giving all the facts within reason. As I have said, this Government has actually increased, quite considerably, the proportion of money voted by the State towards the total cost of road maintenance and improvements. A number of Deputies have spoken about the position in the poor counties. They have adverted to the fact that, in the western counties, the roads have poor natural foundations and that the cost of maintenance is correspondingly heavier for the ratepayers. I should mention in that connection that, [981] generally speaking, the counties where the road foundations are poor are the counties where there is congestion, where there are large numbers on the unemployment register, and where the proportion of unemployment grants is high as compared with richer counties. We could argue for a long time as to whether, in fact, the result of giving an undue proportion, or a large proportion, of the employment moneys to the poorer counties would satisfy the opinions and feelings of the Farmer-Deputies. We think that, having regard to every consideration, the leeway is made up, and that we have, in fact, to a reasonable extent in the past, helped those counties with their poorer road foundations since they have received a very large proportion of the funds available for the relief of unemployment. I think that is the most I can say in regard to the criticism made that we have neglected those counties. I can say that very large sums have been made available, for example, in the County Mayo, and in the County Kerry, and that in some of the western counties the proportion which is asked from the ratepayers as an offset to the amount paid by the State in the way of relief is very reasonable, especially in the case of roads, to enable those poorer areas to deal with what is admittedly a difficult situation.

I should like to advert again to another aspect of this resolution. If the State were to take over the construction and maintenance of main roads it is to be presumed that we would have to engage a staff for that work, that we would have to administer the staff and negotiate in regard to wages in order to carry out the work of maintaining and improving only 10,000 miles out of 50,000 miles of road. This raises a very serious problem of duplication in administration which would be inevitable if the State, in its own right, took over responsibility for administration. It would not be possible to dismiss the proportion of county surveyors, assistant county surveyors and other road officials which would be represented by the amount of work they did in maintaining and improving the main roads in a particular [982] county. Therefore, the proposal would result in an increase of staff and in a duplication of work. I think myself that, so long as that proportion of mileage remains, it would be most inadvisable to do what the proposers suggest. I think it is better for us to have co-ordination between the local authority and the State: to have co-ordination, supervision, co-operation as between the officials of the engineering section of the Department of Local Government and the Department of Finance rather than that the State should take over the entire administration of the main roads of the country. I should like to hear any Deputies suggest how this very grave difficulty is to be obviated. Do they propose, for example, that although we are to maintain and improve the main roads entirely at the State's expense, we are to leave the staffing and the administration entirely in the hands of the local authority? Would that be reasonable in the circumstances?

Mr. D. Morrissey: Information on Daniel Morrissey  Zoom on Daniel Morrissey  There is the county manager.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Again, while dealing with the general problem of road construction in this country, mention has been made of the difficulties that we shall have to face in the post-war period in regard not only to the repair of roads that have deteriorated during the emergency because of lack of tar and of other circumstances which are well known to the House but also in carrying out the road plan which has been announced on a number of occasions by the Minister. I want to state here and now that when the Minister made the announcement that we had now commenced scientific road planning he had no intention of imposing on the country a grandiose system of roads, the cost of which had no relation to the national income of the country or to current economic circumstances. He had no intention of suggesting that because of some new scientific conception that there should be a double-track road from one area to another, that we would go ahead and build that road regardless of the state of the [983] national Budget, regardless of our export trade level, and regardless of other economic circumstances. The purpose of the road plan is to see how far we can plan ahead having regard, first of all, to the national income, and, secondly, to the requirements on the road arising from an increase of motor traffic. We decided, as far as possible, to formulate a plan which would avoid waste, which would avoid doing work twice on a road where work could be done once, of avoiding, for example, making curves on a road which, in a few years, would be out of date and would require remaking because of the increase in the number of vehicles on that particular road.

Mr. D. Morrissey: Information on Daniel Morrissey  Zoom on Daniel Morrissey  Most interesting.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  We decided to inaugurate that road plan in order that we should have, as far as possible, standard methods of construction, that we should avoid waste by not authorising particular road schemes in which in fact the road was being made too wide for traffic that was likely to occur in the future, or that we should avoid a very large amount of money being spent on a road, widening it by a certain distance, say, a few feet, when, in fact, so far as we could tell from the increase in traffic on that road, in another ten years it would require widening again, when we might well afford out of the limits of our income from the Road Fund to do the entire widening for ten years and gradually improve the road in that way while maintaining the remainder of the road in a reasonable state of repair.

Mr. Morrissey:  Most illuminating.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  The road plan will, we hope, do as much to avoid wasteful expenditure as to ensure a good road system designed to carry the traffic which we anticipate when the war is over. We classified our roads on the basis of what we thought the increase in vehicular traffic was likely to be, using the increase that has occurred between the years 1928 and 1939. That again is to some degree [984] speculative. When motor cars, parts of motor cars, tyres, petrol and oil are in full supply, it is quite possible that motor traffic will not increase at the same rate from that particular year for the next ten years as the recorded increase from 1928 to 1939. We shall have to take due account of that. We cannot be reckless in formulating our road plan but we can at least give advice to county surveyors and give them the framework of a plan which we hope to follow, as far as possible, and which we can adapt if necessary if we see that our prognostications are not in fact correct. I have great faith that when the surveyors receive our advice and instructions in regard to the use of the plan the result will be a considerable saving of money to the ratepayers and to the taxpayers per mile of road constructed.

I may add that it is not going to be an easy task. It is very easy to formulate a road plan and very difficult to apply it in practice. It will, for example, enable us, when allocating the Road Fund to each county, to take due account of all the circumstances of a technical character as well as the circumstances of a financial character. As Deputies know, the Road Fund is allocated to each county having regard to a number of different factors: the population in the county, the number of miles of main road, the proportion of Road Fund received from that county, and other circumstances. Using these factors, we allocated a proportion of the Road Fund to each county. In future, when the road plan is in full operation, it shall be possible to take account of the technical factors which, again, should redound to the interest of the ratepayers and the taxpayers alike.

Therefore, the road plan announced by the Minister should relieve the fears of ratepayers who are under the impression that they may be saddled with some enormous, undue expenditure after the war The road plan is a controller of expenditure as well as a creator of expenditure. There is no question that if we are to have a sound, efficient agricultural economy and a sound efficient industrial economy, we shall [985] have to spend money on roads and we all hope that our national income will permit that expenditure and that we shall engage in such internal and external trade as will make it possible for us to carry out the plan in full. But, as I have said, the road plan will be not only a creator but a controller of road expenditure by ratepayers and taxpayers alike.

Deputies have asked for some information in regard to the receipts from the Road Fund. The receipts have varied in different years. They have steadily risen with the increase in motor traffic and whereas in 1923 the figure was £421,500, in 1938-39 the figure reached the very high total of £1,162,000. As Deputies will know from a question that was asked recently, the vast proportion of the Road Fund has been spent on the roads and although there has been a contribution from the Road Fund to the Exchequer that has been more than offset by the proportion of the Employment Fund spent on road improvement. Taking the proportion of the Employment Fund that has been expended on the roads and the Road Fund less the contribution of the Road Fund to the Exchequer, I do not think it can be said that the ratepayers have suffered in any way or have been deprived of the value of the motor licences which have been paid through the local authority.

The House may be interested to know that in 1932 there were 5,137 miles of dust-free surfaces in this country and, by 1942 the figure had reached over 12,000 miles, indicating a very great progress in making modern roads. Deputies interested in rural districts will also be aware of the fact that in future road-planning we intend to provide, as far as we are able, a special surface for the use of farm carts on steep gradients and wherever it is deemed advisable. There again we shall have to take into account the fact that the use by the farming community of motor vehicles has enormously increased. We shall have to adjust our views with regard to farm tracks, having regard to the needs of the farmer who brings his [986] horse and cart to market and the farmer who will tend to use motor vehicles in the future.

I do not think there is any need for me, at this point, to repeat the road standards we have adopted. They have been given to the House and they have also been mentioned on various other occasions, but I can assure the House that our road standards are going to be reasonable and are not just grandiose in character. We believe that they are going to be practicable in every sense, provided the national income permits us to expend the necessary moneys thereon.

The suggestion has been made in the motion that the State should take over the maintenance of main roads. For the maintenance of main roads the grant in 1938 was £342,000; the improvement grant was £426,000. If that suggestion is carried out, another £513,000 will be required. In other words, we will have to take the whole of the Improvement Fund, plus £87,000, in order to carry out the terms of the motion. It will be hard enough to find money for road construction and repair after the war without disturbing the present proportions of local and central taxation for roads, and the Government's opinion is that it would be most undesirable to disturb that proportion and that the State contribution, having regard to all the circumstances, is fairly equitable.

Another reason for rejecting this motion is the fact that, once you divide roads specifically into roads controlled entirely by the State and roads controlled entirely by the local authorities, it is quite evident that there will be bound to be conflicts. I do not think the Minister or any member of any Party having a reasonable view on these things would enjoy the prospect which would ensue if we had continued disputes as to which roads should be transferred from the local authority to the national authority for the purpose of maintenance and improvement. Naturally, that proportion of 10,000 miles of main roads to 40,000 miles of local roads may alter; in connection with every alteration there would be a dispute [987] and representations would be made by county councillors and Deputies, and I do not think that that would create a desirable atmosphere in which to carry out road construction and maintenance.

The House would perhaps like a few figures which would show the position in Ireland with regard to road mileage and expenditure as compared with neighbouring countries. The mileage of roads per 1,000 of the population in this country is 16 miles; in England it is 4½ miles. The following figures indicate the relative contributions of the State towards road expenditure in this and other countries. In 1938, the State contribution per mile per thousand persons was 6½d.; in Northern Ireland, it was 1/11; and in Great Britain 2½d. These three communities are very different and comparison has only a very limited value; but in this country, with about one-third or one-fourth of the British national income per head of the population, an expenditure of 6½d. per mile per 1,000 persons sounds fairly adequate in comparison with 1/11 in Northern Ireland. Although it is true that there is a concentration of industry in Northern Ireland greater than here and that these figures are not strictly comparable, they indicate that we have made a reasonable contribution towards road construction and improvement.

Again, if you examine in detail the proportion which the road rate in various counties bears to the total rate, you will find that the amount varies; that, as certain Deputies said, it is very high in certain counties. But, taken as a whole, the figures do not reflect an excessive burden on the ratepayers. If you take the total road rate as a percentage of the total rate in various counties, you will find that it varies from 18 per cent. to 34 per cent. In a very large number of counties the figure is approximately 25 per cent. There is no need to give the counties separately because we should then be discussing purely individual examples. But, looking down the list, a great [988] number of the counties have a percentage of 25 per cent.

In connection with the percentage of the main road rate to the full rate, the figures show again, I think, that the State is making a fair contribution. The rates vary from 9 per cent. upwards. I think the highest figure is 15 per cent. There are a great many counties where the proportion is 9 per cent.; there are a number where it is 10 per cent. and there are a few where it is 11 and 12 per cent. But, as I say, in the largest number of counties it is 9 and 10 per cent. That is a clear indication that the State is doing its part and I do not think that Deputies can complain. When a county spends out of its total rate 10 per cent. on main road maintenance, I do not think it is an unreasonable figure. I do not think it is a figure which justifies the sponsoring of this motion. If it were a higher figure, if it were twice or three times that, we might be put in the position of having to defend ourselves rather more urgently. But I do not think that the Minister has any reason to accept criticism when the average percentage of the main road rate to the full rate in counties is in the nature of 9 or 10 per cent.

Perhaps if members of the Farmers' Party were to read in detail the report of the Local Government Department they would find clear indications that, in so far as we can, we have adjusted the proportions equitably. I do not believe that we should commit ourselves too far into the future. There is no reason why, if circumstances appear to warrant it, we might not slightly alter or modify, in an upward or a downward direction, our contribution towards road construction and maintenance. And if, by any chance, in the course of the next ten years, the figure should then change no Deputy can say: “We told you so”. Looking back on the years before the war when conditions were normal, I think that our contribution was reasonable and I think that all the financial and technical circumstances demand that this motion be defeated.

Mr. Hughes: Information on James Hughes  Zoom on James Hughes  I listened with great interest to the Parliamentary Secretary [989] attempting to give us a detailed description of the elaborate plans which are being prepared at present in the Department of Local Government for future road development. What struck me about the details he gave was that, while he gave us a certain amount of information as to the difficulty of coordinating plans as between one county and another, he was beautifully vague about the cost of these roads and how they were to be paid for; how much has to be paid out of the Central Fund, and what contribution was expected to be made by the local authority. The Parliamentary Secretary did say that the problem was a very complex one. It is true that it is a very complex one. The Parliamentary Secretary took the County Mayo as an example and talked about the volume of the traffic on the roads, and expressed the belief that the bulk of the traffic was local. That may apply to a county like Mayo, but what about a corridor county like County Kildare or County Meath? The whole traffic from the south of Ireland is carried through County Kildare. Surely he does not contend that in County Kildare the bulk of the traffic [990] is local. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary appreciates that immediately before the war there was a huge stream of traffic all the time on the main roads in County Kildare which was merely passing through. A very small percentage of that traffic pertained to local individuals. For that reason I think the Parliamentary Secretary was not fair in picking a county like Mayo as an example to illustrate his contention. He gave a lot of interesting figures. I did not get hold of all the figures, but I hope to read his speech later on and try to adjust these figures. I move the adjournment of the debate.

Debate adjourned.


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