Friday, 8 February 1946
Dáil Éireann Debate
That Dáil Eireann is of opinion that Section 25 of the Local Government Act, 1925, be amended to empower local authorities to repair and maintain from local funds any road which ordinarily is of service to two or more tenants.
I feel that there are few Deputies who would not be relieved if the Minister could see his way to accept the proposals in this motion. I am sure that many Deputies, like myself, are inundated with requests from various parts of the country to have steps taken so that these roads could be repaired by local authorities. There is a demand for the repair and maintenance of these roads but, as the law stands, they do not come within the category of roads that can be maintained by local authorities. Prior to 1942, owing to the elasticity of the expression “public utility”, such roads were, in many cases, maintained by funds provided by local authorities, but whether it was through generosity on the part of auditors or ignorance on the part of the councillors concerned, in a few cases surcharges took place. Now that we have installed in each county a county manager we find that many roads which came within the category of roads controlled by local authorities cannot be repaired or maintained by them. I am wondering what case the Minister can put up for legislation as it stands. For instance, for the upkeep of a road of a width of 11 feet, connecting two main roads, a local authority has absolute power to give a grant out of its funds, whereas roads, which might be classified as culs-de-sac, on which ratepayers, who pay much larger amounts than others living on communicating roads, are deprived of any funds for their repair.
That class of people have had for years to plough through mud and slush in order to attend to their farming duties. In many cases, they are prevented carrying out their work in a proper way owing to lack of accommodation.  They have been deprived in many cases of facilities for attendance at Divine worship. At the same time those living on these roads, being large contributors to local rates, have had to provide roads for motorists and others. They have also to provide high-class roads for the convenience of that monopolistic body, Córas Iompair Eireann, the making of which, in the aggregate, cost about £1,500 per mile.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary if it is fair or right that these people should be asked to contribute to the upkeep of roads from which they derive no benefit. The legislation which prevents the maintenance of these roads was, I believe, more or less substantiated in the courts in years gone by, but to maintain such legislation is to perpetuate the memory of chief Baron Palles, who decided that the roads with which I am concerned could not be legally maintained by local authorities. We know that he was a person of perverted mentality and had an oblique sense of justice as far as this country is concerned. There is even a greater absurdity regarding the position of by-roads. In many cases, what were known as Grand Jury roads, if used only by one family, or by one man, could be legally maintained at the expense of a local authority, while a cul-de-sac, which might accommodate ten families, could not be maintained. I ask every Deputy to consider the position fairly and dispassionately, particularly Deputies who are members of local authorities. They will certainly agree with me that there is a clamant demand for the repair of the roads with which this motion is concerned. I know that Deputies have been inundated with requests of that kind from day-to-day. No political issues are involved in the motion, and the acceptance of it by Deputies on all sides will not involve any sacrifices of political principles. I expect every Deputy to favour the motion.
Even at this late hour I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to give consideration to a section of the community which is paying taxes but getting no benefit. I also ask the Parliamentary Secretary who, I am  aware, has a good idea of rural conditions, but may not be acquainted with this particular position, to discuss this matter with his Party. In particular, I advise him to discuss it with my colleague, Deputy O'Rourke, who has time and again raised it at Roscommon County Council. It has been raised not only at Roscommon County Council but at every county council in the Twenty-Six Counties. The Parliamentary Secretary will find that I am not exaggerating or misrepresenting the situation. With these facts before him, I earnestly hope that the legislation will be altered in such a way as to meet the demand of the people for whom I speak.
Mr. Cogan: I second the motion. Deputy Beirne, in introducing this motion, has made a well-reasoned case in its support. All citizens are equal in the eyes of the law and it seems rather a cruel thing that, while the overwhelming majority have roadways or thoroughfares leading right to their doors, a minority have to flounder through a mile or two miles of mud to reach the main road. What adds to their sense of grievance and injustice is that, when they reach the main road with their horse or other animal, it is so surfaced that the animal is unable to keep its feet. Those of us who are familiar with the layout of housing accommodation in remote rural districts are aware that farms are so situated that some farmers have to travel a mile or two miles to reach the main road. Under the existing law, there is no legal means by which their grievance can be met. There is no statutory obligation on anybody to provide them with means of access to the roadway. It is pleasing and gratifying to note that, in all our housing schemes during recent years, one of the first things considered in developing the sites was the provision of a good roadway to the houses. Where we find a piece of land being developed in the vicinity of towns or cities for housing purposes, we always see that a concrete or other permanent road is being laid down so as to give easy access to the occupants of the  houses. When a Deputy goes to the rural areas to visit somebody who has communicated with him about some matter, he finds he has to travel across fields and bogs for a distance of a mile or two miles to reach the house. We all feel that it is a grave hardship on those people to have to live under such conditions. It is a grave hardship on the women folk who reside in those rural houses that they cannot get to the nearest town or to chapel, and that their children cannot go to school without ploughing through mud. When the children reach school, their feet are wet. Even though they may be well shod, the water gets in over the tops of their boots.
The local councils are, in most cases, sympathetic to those people. They understand the conditions under which they live and they are anxious to do something to meet the cases of more extreme hardship. I do not say that a county council would decide to repair every road for which a demand was made, but they would be prepared to meet cases of extreme hardship. When we come down to the principles involved, we cannot find any valid reason for refusal to meet those requests. If it is right that county roads should be made even in thinly-populated rural areas—we find good county roads in some such areas— surely it is right, in the case of a long laneway along which five or six families may be living, that the councils should have, at least, the power to meet the demand for repair of such laneways. I do not know — and I am rather at a disadvantage in not knowing—what the attitude of the Parliamentary Secretary will be to this motion. He may take the stand that, if we are to repair roads which two or three persons are using, there is no reason why we should not repair the laneway leading to every house. He may say that the individual farmer who is solely utilising a laneway has as good a case for having that laneway put into repair as others to whom we have been referring. There is, however, a definite distinction between accommodation roads used by one person and such roads used by more than one. There is the difference that  the person who suffers the most grievous hardship by reason of the roadway not being repaired may not be the person who utilises the road to the greatest extent. He may not be the person who does the most heavy carting and causes the greatest damage to the road.
There are cases in which it is difficult to apportion the cost when a road is being used by two persons. Where only one person is using a road, it is usually built entirely on his own land. If his house is situated at the extreme end of his farm, so that it is a long distance to the road, he may be able to change his residence at some future time and get nearer to the road. In a case in which four or five other farms intervene between the individual and the roadway, it is almost impossible for him to improve his position. Therefore, I think it is a case in which the State should intervene. We all admit that a great deal has been done in recent years in this connection. We have had minor relief schemes which covered roadways of this kind and under which a certain amount of reconstruction was done. These minor relief schemes were subject to certain conditions which made it difficult for many persons who are suffering hardship to obtain the grants. If a roadway were situated in an electoral division in which there was very little unemployment, a minor relief grant could not be obtained.
We have had also in recent years a scheme of rural development, which is, likewise, a very good scheme. Here, again, you have the difficulty that perhaps some of those affected are not willing to co-operate in carrying through such schemes. In addition, you have the position in which it is necessary to make application at certain times to get such a scheme carried through and it is not a permanent function of any authority to provide permanent maintenance for that roadway.
Under the scheme outlined in this motion, the local authority would take over the maintenance of such roadways and would yearly provide for their upkeep. The cost in each case  would not be very high because of course the traffic would not be exceptionally heavy. I think there is a principle which in justice ought to be met, that the citizen who lives in a remote rural area is entitled at least to accommodation which would compare in some way with that which the citizen of an urban area or living adjacent to a county roadway is already enjoying. I think in justice to those people who suffer severe hardship we should endeavour to meet their case. We know that there is a growing tendency on the part of young people to get away from these remote rural areas, to get nearer to towns or into towns if possible. Anybody who travels through our rural areas, who is interested in minor relief works or in rural improvement schemes, in travelling over some of these rural laneways or accommodation roads will note derelict houses, the occupants having left the district. The ruins of the houses are to be seen in many places. I find in my county—it may not be the same in the West—that what really happens is that the farms alongside these laneways becomes out-farms to some other bigger farms in the district and they are neglected to some extent. They may be utilised for grazing. The little homesteads are allowed to fall and the lane is allowed to deteriorate. That happened mainly because there were no decent facilities for getting to these farms through a roadway. I think that is one aspect of the matter that should appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary.
Mr. Beegan: I would have great sympathy with this motion if it were properly outlined but then if it were, I do not think there would be any need for it at all because under the 1925 Act, as I understand it, the local authority is empowered to spend money on any existing road that is not a cul-de-sac, if it can be used for general public utility. I understand according to the existing law, although it is being severely criticised at present, particularly in our county by the county surveyor, money can be spent on such a road if it has a carriageway of 11 feet in width. The only point at issue in this motion is whether the road is a  stop-end road. The motion calls on the Minister for Local Government to amend the law to enable local authorities to repair and maintain roads that benefit two or more persons. I think if the Minister accepts that, the burden that will be placed on the rates in every county will be intolerable. I cannot understand this motion coming from a Party who, during the past week, moved another motion here calling for what was tantamount to complete derating. I think it is most inconsistent to bring forward another motion now which tends to increase expenditure which they claim at the moment is an intolerable burden. I cannot subscribe to this motion because of that, though in my own County of Galway I have been all out to help people who live along these roads leading from one road to another where the roads were not in a proper condition of repair.
In County Galway—and there was no reason why they could not have done the same thing in County Roscommon —from 1930 to 1944, we increased the road mileage by almost 400 miles. In 1930 the road mileage in County Galway was 1,830 miles and in 1944, the last year for which I have the figures, the road mileage was 2,180, almost 2,200 miles. The cost of maintenance per mile in 1944 was exactly the same figure as in 1930—£20 per mile. At the same time with that increase in mileage, we have, by way of councillors' notices of motion at what is known as the roads meeting every year, increased the burden on the rates by something like £8,000 per annum. In addition to that, in putting these roads into proper repair we have spent from 1930 to 1944, an average of £12,000 per year. There was nothing to prevent the Roscommon County Council from doing that also. We have spent a considerable amount on new works which has also increased the mileage in the county. I think the county council in Roscommon took a very different attitude a few years ago. When motions were down for the carrying out of such works, they refused to put even a penny in the £ on the rates for roads.
Mr. Beegan: Well, even on main roads they have not spent anything like what we have spent in the County Galway during that period. If this motion is adopted it will certainly add a burden to the other heavy burdens the ratepayers already have to bear. While, as I say, I would be in sympathy with any motion which had for its object the repair and maintenance of roads which serve a large number of people residing in villages, I think at the present time it would be unwise to add to them the type of road envisaged in this motion, particularly in view of the fact that we have numerous schemes which provide for that and which, mind you, in a certain way—in an indirect way, if you like—give relief in rates. I refer to the rural improvement schemes whereby the people concerned on any of these culs-de-sac or stop-end roads can, if they put up one-fourth of the estimated expenditure, get the remaining three-fourths. This scheme is working very well in my county. At the time, I did not hail it at all as strongly as did Deputy Donnellan, but it has proved that his outlook on it and on the manner in which it would work was sounder than mine, because there is hardly a village in Galway from which applications are not sent to the Office of Public Works under this scheme, and very great satisfaction is given. The work is well carried out, and, except in places where there are men on the dole, the people who contribute one-fourth of the money are given first preference on the work. They earn back that one-fourth, as well as a considerable amount of the remaining three-fourths. I know that some people who originally refused to put up the money have since put up sums to the extent of £20 or £25 because of the fact that they are getting that preference, and as a result of the very fine work which has been done. Deputy Cogan mentioned that we should do something even in the case of laneways leading to one house. A good deal has been done in that way where the farm improvements scheme has  been availed of. 50 per cent. of the estimated cost is being provided.
I do not think I could support this motion, although I have been as sympathetic as anybody in the case of the type of roads I have mentioned—roads leading from one road to another, which serve a large number of people —but when it comes down to a question of serving two or more people, and to the case of a cul-de-sac road of no public utility other than the accommodation it provides for those people, just the same as the avenue to any of the big mansions in the country, I think the people concerned are getting a very fine offer from the taxpayers when they are being provided with three-fourths of the money to repair those roads, and have to put up only the remaining one-fourth. I want to say again that I think those who are so anxious to reduce the rates or to wipe them out altogether should be very hesitant about putting down a motion of this kind and bringing it before the House.
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Local Government and Public Health (Mr. Childers): At the outset, I should like to tell the mover and the seconder of this motion that, on pure theory, I have every sympathy with the idea underlying what might be described as a unified system of road repair throughout the country. I should like very much to see a system set up whereby, with the aid of Government grants and from road moneys, it would be possible to have an administration which would cover every type of road, to which there would be contributions from the unemployment fund, from the road fund, and as I have said already, from the local authority. I agree also with the mover and seconder of this motion that there has been a clamorous demand for the repair of these cul-de-sac roads, and to a certain degree for the repair of link roads. I myself, as representing Athlone-Longford, am fully aware of that demand. I am aware too that people's standards of what a road should be have very greatly improved in the last ten years. People are no longer content to live at the end of muddy lanes, under impossible conditions,  where it is difficult for children to get to school, for people to go to Mass, and for the doctor and the priest to visit the sick. I am aware of all those conditions. I am also aware of the fact that there has been a considerable demand by local authorities in the past few years for an alteration of the present law with regard to the type of road that can be repaired by the expenditure of a county rate, largely in the Local Government Act of 1925, under which roads which have some public utility adjoining other public roads which are not less than 11 feet in width can be taken over by the county council. But the Act makes it quite clear, as has already been stated, that cul-de-sac roads are not included among the roads which can be so taken over.
I have read a good deal of correspondence from county councils in regard to this matter, and it is quite obvious that in a great many cases the members of the county council were influenced, quite naturally, by what might be described as localised pressure. Every county councillor was impressed by the fact that his own electors were requesting the repair of a particular cul-de-sac road, and so he combined with others in a demand to the Government to alter the law. But it is equally obvious from studying the discussions that took place that those county councillors were not aware of the implications underlying any change of the law, implications as regards costs and administration, and therein lies my difficulty—that much as I should like to alter the present administration and to have a unified system of repair for every class of road, I see no hope of doing it at least for the present. I want further to make it quite clear to Deputy Beirne and Deputy Cogan that it is only through relentlessly facing facts that I cannot accept their resolution. In this country there are 15 miles of road per 1,000 of the population, as compared with ten in Northern Ireland and four and a half in Great Britain, but of course, as Deputies well know, those roads are subject to severe climatic conditions, and the fact that there are  only 1,000 people using them per 15 miles does not mean that their rate of deterioration is not very serious. The aid that we can obtain from taxation arising from the use of motor vehicles is again very limited as compared with countries adjoining us. The number of mechanically-propelled vehicles per main road mile in this country is 6.5 as compared with 19 in Northern Ireland and 65 in Great Britain, so that we have a special problem to try to keep up a reasonable standard of maintenance for roads which suffer all the effects of our climate and which are used, shall we say, less densely— our roads have less considerable density of traffic than in other countries.
I find it is absolutely essential that we should maintain public responsibility for the repair of our existing mileage of roads for which the county rate is struck, and for which the Road Fund is available. It is even more necessary to catch up on arrears of maintenance which have arisen partly through faulty administration in certain counties, partly through the war, and the necessity for agricultural and turf work during the season when roads are best repaired, and any hope I might have of what might be described as increasing the road mileage controlled by a county council on a speculative basis seems to diminish when I examine the Road Fund position. I find, too, that any hope we have of carrying out major reconstruction of roads depends, first of all, on carrying out urgent repairs on our existing road surfaces. I think the House may be aware that our main roads have stood up fairly well to the lack of attention they have suffered during the war owing to scarcity of materials and owing to the diversion of labour in some months to turf production. A serious position, however, is just beginning to arise. The surface or the skin—the waterproof skin—of many of our main roads is beginning to deteriorate at a quicker rate than before, and once that deterioration commences, the cost of resurfacing the road grows immeasurably. Now, it is the responsibility of the local authorities,  aided by the Road Fund, or by whatever contribution can be made from the Road Fund or the rural improvements scheme for the special resurfacing of these roads, to carry out those arrears of maintenance which are so urgently desired. Accordingly, aside from what might be described as the normal situation, I cannot visualise anything being done by the Government which would increase the total mileage of roads for which the county councils are responsible.
I have also noticed a desire on the part of local authorities to take over bog roads leading to bogs within the area. That has to be discouraged, because it is anticipated that those bogs will either revert to their original owners or be divided by the Land Commission, and it would be quite impossible for us to allow local councils to take over these bogs. Now, apart from emergency conditions, I think it would be well to give some figures relating to the difficulties that exist. We have about 48,000 miles of roads, of which some 10,000 miles are main roads, and some 38,000 miles are county roads. So far as county roads are concerned, there are 32,000 miles which are still unrolled, and that have never yet been rolled, and about 2,700 miles which have been rolled, but have not yet been surface-dressed. That indicates that we have not yet achieved the standard for county roads which are at present under the control of county councils, and I think that anybody going around the country will realise that a lot has been left undone with regard to the maintenance of these roads, quite apart from cul-de-sac and link roads.
To take a particular example: Deputy Beegan spoke of the Galway roads and said, quite rightly, that the maintenance of the Galway road system had deteriorated, at least, to some degree, in that 700 miles of link roads had been taken over by the Galway County Council since 1925 and some 400 miles between 1930 and 1944, and that the 400 miles of road had only resulted in less money being spent per mile on the existing mileage. In 1930, the amount spent was £20 per mile, and in 1944, the amount spent per mile was still  £20, despite the increase in wages and so on. So far as Galway is concerned, therefore, the repair work carried out has resulted in a disadvantage. Quite obviously, if you spent £20, in 1930, per mile, and if, in 1944, the amount is still £20, in view of the general increases in wages and so on, you cannot get proper results.
Mr. Childers: As a matter of fact, we have had to warn some of these councils that if they arrange to increase the mileage controlled by them, and do not take care of the maintenance of the main roads, we shall have to reconsider the whole position.
Mr. Childers: I do not think that Deputy Dillon was here when Deputy Beegan was speaking. I am referring to the question of the Government endeavouring to solve the problem of these cul-de-sac and link roads. I am not quite sure of what the mileage of such roads would amount to. One of the officials of the Department suggested that it would be 40,000 miles, but I think it would be safe to leave it between 20,000 and 30,000 miles. Deputy Cogan says that we should only take over roads where the position is serious. I think, however, that anybody should know that if one cul-de-sac road, which was in a shocking condition, and which had only six houses on it, were repaired, then the pressure would grow to repair another such road, not in such a shocking condition, which had eight houses upon it.
As I have said, the position in regard to county councils in this matter is not one which would encourage any large increase, particularly as we have got to make up large arrears. A heavy rate was struck for roads in Galway, and I cannot envisage maintaining the  present roads there and, at the same time, going in for the provision of other roads. I do not think the ratepayers would stand for it, and I do not think it would be possible for us to allow such a thing to occur. The proposal has been made from time to time that we should have an area charge for such cul-de-sac or stop-end roads, but I think Deputies are aware that it would be quite impossible to administer such a charge. It would be impossible, from the point of view of administration, to make a levy that would suit the different types of people who would use such roads. We find also that if we were to take the risk and allow these cul-de-sac roads to be repaired out of the general rates of the county, we would have great difficulty in doing the proper kind of work on such roads. The most that the county rate could bear would be repairs of just a patching character—repairs which would be of quite a different kind from that of ordinary road maintenance. I do not believe that there would be contentment amongst the users of such roads if we adopted a system of just patching cul-de-sac roads and making use of the general rate for the purpose. Having faced all these difficulties, we instituted the rural improvements scheme. I do. not know whether Deputies are aware of the position in regard to that scheme, but so far as I can gather from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance, the demand for grants under that scheme is growing constantly.
I think that at any one time there are between 1,500 and 2,000 applications. I know that my own experience has been a mixed one. In many cases, even where farmers have small holdings and where you would imagine there would be some misgiving about paying a contribution in advance and some difficulty in finding the cash, the scheme succeeded admirably. In other cases, it has failed because of the refusal of a minority of persons to take part in it, or because a large farmer who is using the road less than others has been unwilling to give the necessary contribution. But the scheme is succeeding and it has a number of advantages. First of all, it gives a  chance to small farmers to discharge their contribution by work instead of by cash. In County Roscommon, for instance, for every £100 of expenditure, the sum that comes back to a family who take part in a scheme by working on it amounts to some 35 per cent. So that, in the case of every family where some one can work on the scheme, they get back the contribution and a little more besides.
Another advantage in the scheme is the fact that it makes a distinction between the liability of the users of the road in regard to the cost. It is possible, where a great number of people are using a road which is repaired, that some poor widow who is living in a house on it cannot afford a contribution. She is not asked to pay a contribution as people know well that she cannot afford it. On the other hand, there may be people living on the road who are well able to pay a contribution and, even though they employ labour for the purpose, they can, if they have the co-operative spirit, contribute a larger share of the cost. Another advantage in the scheme lies in the fact that the inspector will, if necessary, make two proposals for the repair of a road. He comes down from the Board of Works and the sponsor of the scheme is sent a statement of the total cost and the contribution required. There are occasions when it is possible to reduce the cost if the contribution appears excessive. That is not possible in every case, but on a number of occasions I know that a modified offer has been made. Then there is also the advantage that when farmers contribute to a work of this kind there is some encouragement to them to maintain the road once it has been repaired.
I should like to mention that in scattered areas throughout the country I have had instances given to me of cul-de-sac roads which have been repaired by the voluntary co-operation of the farmers living on them without any reference to any Government Department. I know it does not take place very often, but I know of one case actually in Galway, close to  Ballinasloe, where people have always repaired their cul-de-sac road. They come together to arrange about it. One man gets the sand and the gravel and they repair the road at almost no labour to themselves because they do it every year. When these roads are repaired under a rural improvement scheme, if a little attention were given to them every year on a voluntary basis by the farmers living on them, they could save the cost of having the work done later under another rural improvement scheme. In fact, it would be wrong not to state that in the case of many cul-de-sac roads the roads were on part of the lands vested in the tenants under old Land Acts. The roads actually belonged to the people and were part of their property. In a considerable number of cases, in the deeds which they signed at the time they expressed their responsibility for maintaining the roads. I know that a lot of water has gone under the bridges since then and I know that the granting of a land title to people under these circumstances would not presume that the next generation of people would regard themselves as necessarily responsible for maintaining the roads. The fact is, however, that these roads were included in the Land Commission scheme and the responsibility for their repair was the responsibility of the tenants—not in every case, but in a considerable number of cases.
The Government regard the rural improvement scheme as a good test of local initiative and as an experiment in overcoming this problem of the cul-de-sac roads. We have never stated that the scheme will remain in its present form or that it is incapable of amendment. We inaugurated it to cover the cases of cul-de-sac roads which could not be repaired under the minor relief scheme, because there was an insufficient number of unemployed persons in the electoral division. The scheme has not been sufficiently advertised by certain Deputies. I should like to ask all Deputies to encourage its utilisation, to encourage people to come together and to overcome the difficulties arising from its operation. One difficulty that arises is when the  great majority of the people are willing to take part in a scheme and there is a very small minority that refuses. I managed to persuade the majority in certain cases of the kind, particularly when they were people who themselves would take part in the work and recover the contribution, to go ahead and pay the contribution and ignore the small minority of selfish people, and I mean by that people who could afford to pay. That is one way in which Deputies, county councillors and other people interested can help the scheme. Another way they can help is by overcoming difficulties arising from the varying responsibility of users of a road. There is the difficulty of the man with the big farm at the end of the road nearest to the public road who does not use the road much, as he has only 100 yards to go from his gate to the public road. There is always a difficulty there that can only be ironed out by co-operation and patience, and people of influence in the district can help in making a scheme possible which would otherwise be likely to fail.
I do not think I can say very much more on this motion except to repeat that until the end of the emergency it will certainly be impossible to accept the motion; that when we have caught up on the arrears of maintenance we shall have time to watch the working of the rural improvement scheme, to see how far it is really and genuinely successful, and time, therefore, to see what other measures can be taken in order that every mile of road used by people in this country can be placed in a state of proper repair. As I said, it is with very great reluctance that I find it impossible to have a unified system of road administration, but I see no possibility of it at present.
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