Wednesday, 27 February 1946
Dáil Éireann Debate
Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr. Lemass): The object of this legislation is to make provision for the maintenance of a shipping service between Galway and the Aran Islands, and for the payment of subsidies to the company operating the service. The House is aware that a steamship service is the only regular service available for the public transport of passengers and goods between the mainland and the islands. As well as carrying the necessaries of life and the mails, the vessel brings live stock to the fairs on the mainland. It also performs the service of the Irish Lights. The maintenance of the service is essential to the economic life of the community living on the island. It has been in operation for many years but, owing to the limited amount of traffic available, it has never been self-supporting. To secure its continuance it has, therefore, been necessary to subsidise it from public funds, and the Galway Bay Steamboat Company has been in receipt of subsidies varying in amount since the year 1891. Prior to 1930 the total subsidies payable amounted to about £1,000 per annum. Between 1931 and 1945 the annual subsidy averaged about £500.
In 1936 we passed the Aran Islands (Transport) Act. That Act made provision for the payment of annual subsidies in respect of the operation of the service. It provided also for payment of occasional subsidies to meet the cost of overhauls of the vessel. The amount of annual subsidy was  limited to £300, and the Act provided that no subsidy should be paid in respect of any year subsequent to 1945. Under that Act an agreement was made in 1938 with the Galway Bay Steamboat Company for the operation and regulation of the Aran service. It provided for a fixed annual subsidy of £300 and in addition an extra subsidy to be paid on the occasion of the periodic overhaul of the vessel operating the service, namely, the S.S. Dun Aengus. The extra subsidy was limited to the amount by which the overhaul exceeded £1,200 and was not recoverable from insurance or other sources. That agreement terminated in December last.
Mr. Lemass: Last year. During the emergency, owing to the shortness of coal and the poor quality of the fuel available, the service was seriously curtailed in recent years. Despite the reduction in the services, expenditure for fuel and wages greatly increased. The revenue formerly earned by the provision of tender services for ocean liners ceased. Although the company's charges were increased, it, nevertheless, operated at a heavy loss during these years, and so critical did the position become last year that it was found necessary to pay an extra subsidy of £700 under the authority of an Emergency Powers Order. The vessel is now due for overhaul and the company has no funds available to discharge that liability. There is no statutory provision for the payment of subsidy to meet the cost of overhaul, or to cover the annual loss incurred in working the service.
The purpose of this Bill is to re-enact the provisions of the 1936 Act empowering the Minister for Industry and Commerce, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, to contract for the carrying on of a shipping service for the carriage of passengers and goods between the City of Galway and the Aran Islands. The contract may include provisions relating to the maintenance, repair, insurance and disposal of the vessel, frequency and times of service, regulation of charges  and other relevant matters. Provision is also made in the Bill for the continued payment of an annual subsidy in respect of the operation of the Aran service and for an occasional subsidy to meet the cost of the periodic overhaul of the vessel. The amount of annual subsidy necessary to ensure the continued operation of the service is not specifically determined. It may vary, depending on operating costs, the availability of supplies and the possibility of the resumption of certain profitable services, such as tender service to liners, when calls to Galway are resumed. With the improvements in conditions there should be a prospect that the amount of the subsidy will diminish progressively. Whatever amount is considered necessary will be included in the Estimates submitted to the Dáil each year. It is anticipated that for 1946 a subsidy of about £500 will be required. The vessel involved in this service, the Dun Aengus, was acquired by the Galway Bay Steamship Company by means of a loan of £7,500 granted by the Congested Districts Board in 1912. A balance of £3,694 remained unpaid in 1935 and was remitted entirely in that year. In consideration of that remission, the Minister for Industry and Commerce acquired the right to enforce the transfer to him of the vessel on the termination of the agreement, that is to say, in 1945. It is proposed to defer the enforcement of that provision for the time being. Section 4 of the Bill and the new agreement which it is proposed to enter into with the Galway Bay Steamship Company will postpone the date of the transfer of the vessel while it continues to be used on the Aran service in accordance with the terms of the agreement. As I mentioned, an overhaul of the vessel is now due. It was last overhauled in 1941, and in the Estimates for this year will be included provision not merely for the annual subsidy to meet operating losses which it is assumed will arise, but also for an occassional subsidy to cover the cost of this overhaul less whatever sum may be recoverable from insurance.
Seosamh Ó Mongain: Is maith liom go bhfuil an tAire á dhéanamh seo mar bhí scannradh ar mhuintir Arann nach mbeadh bád ar fáil dóibh. Mar sin is maith go bhfuil an tAire ag socrú go mbeidh bád acu. 55 bliain ó shoin bhí an Congested Districts Board ag tabhairt deontas £700 sa mbhain le haghaidh seirbhís bád go dtí na hOileáin seo. Coinníodh é sin ar bun go dtí timpeall 1912. Ansin d'árdaigh siad é go dtí £1,000 sa mbliain. B'fhiú trí oiread an t-am sin an t-airgead sin agus is fiú anois é. An uair sin bhítí ag dul suas ar a laghad trí huaire sa tseachtain. Le blianta anuas ní bítear ag dul suas ach uair amháin. Is mór an chailliúint é sin do mhuintir Arann. Má thagann duine anuas, faoi láthair, Dia Máirt caithidh sé fanacht seachtain i nGaillimh go dtiubharfar suas arís é Dia Máirt. Molaim go mbeadh an bád ag dul suas trí huaire sa tseachtain ar a laghad. Is maith liom go bhfuil an tAire ag dul á dhéanamh agus tá súil agam go ndéanfa sé i gceart é. Ní grá Dé atá mé á iarraidh. Is ceart agus cóir na ndaoine seo é fháil. Tá súil agam nach mbeidh sé ina oineach Uí Bhriain aige agus a dhá shúil ina dhiaidh. Tá mé cinnte go ndearna na daoine atá ag rith an bháid faoi láthair a ndícheall. Marach an Maor agus cupla duine eile ní bheadh bád ar bith ag muintir Arann.
Gearóid MacParthaláin: Cuirimse fáilte roimh an mBille seo. Níor chóir gur ghrá Dé bheadh sa tseirbhís seo. Tá mé a cheapadh gur go faillíoch a rinne an Comhlucht ar a bhfuil cúram na seirbhíse seo a gcuid oibre agus i ngeall ar sin, bhí súil ar muintir na hOileán go gcuirfí an tseirbhís seo faoi  chúram Chóras Iompair Eireann; ach do réir ailt a 4 den Bhille seo is cosúil go bhfuil sé ar intinn na Roinne gan bacadh leis sin agus an comhlucht a bhí i mbun na seirbhíse fhágáil ina bun. Dá mbeadh an tseirbhíse faoi Chóras Iompair Eireann bheadh búntáiste amháin ag muintir na nOileán, sé sin, ní bheadh táillí costasacha ar earraí ón stáisiún go dtí an bád; agus, rud eile dhe, bheadh seirbhís rialta acu. Ar chuma ar bith, ní ceart aon dream a cháineadh mar gheall ar ar thárla le linn an chogaidh. Tá a fhios ag gach duine gur ganntanas guail ba chionntach leis an tseirbhís sin a bheith go hole agus chruthaigh an tAire agus an Roinn go rí-mhaith agus an oiread sin ghuail a chur ar fáil agus a thug deis don ghaltán seoladh uair amháin sa tseachtain agus bhí muintir na nOileán an-bhuíoch dá bharr san.
I welcome this Bill also, and I think it was not quite fair of the last speaker to refer to the inadequacy of the service during recent years. That was not due to any fault either of the Galway Bay Steamship Company or of any other authority in the country. The service was reduced to one sailing a week, but at the beginning of the emergency when coal first became very scarce, I think the people did not expect that the coal situation would permit of even one sailing per week. However, co-operation between the company and the Department resulted in sufficient coal being available to guarantee one sailing per week, and the people have been, on the whole, in view of all the circumstances, very appreciative of the joint efforts in that respect.
I note, however, that the Minister proposes to authorise his Department to waive their right to take over possession of the boat. They have, as he pointed out, a mortgage on the vessel, and in the ordinary course it was expected that the vessel would come into full possession of the Department, because I do not think there is any prospect that the company will be able to redeem this mortgage. If the service were to come completely and fully under the Department or, say, under Córas Iompair Éireann, such an  arrangement would be welcomed by the people, because in their opinion there would be a better guarantee of a regular service and certain disabilities from which they suffer at present would be removed; for instance, charges in respect of goods coming from other parts of the country to Aran. At present, there is an extra charge from the local station to the boat, and that adds to the cost of goods going to the island. I am sure the Minister knows that in respect of two of the islands there are additional charges because there is no quarterage or any place in which the boat can berth.
I do not like to offer any extra suggestions in regard to this service. I appreciate the fact that the Minister is doing all that can reasonably be expected in present circumstances but it seems to me, in view of the fact that people sometimes have to spend a fortnight, and very often have to spend a week, when they come to Galway to do business, particularly at fairs, that an arrangement should be made either with the Galway Bay Steamship Company or with other owners of boats, either in Galway, along the coast, or in Aran, to provide some sort of subsidiary service to what is proposed in the Bill whereby people returning to Aran could go out on the ordinary bus service along the Galway-Carraroe Road and by arrangement with a boat owner, be able to get back home and not have to spend a whole week waiting for the boat. Having to spend a week in Galway is very costly on them and it is a cost which they can ill-afford. This Bill, of course, makes provision for a shipping service between the City of Galway and the Aran Islands and such an arrangement as I suggest might not be possible within the terms of the Bill. However, I make the suggestion to the Minister and I ask him to consider it in conjunction with the Galway Bay Steamship Company, because I presume the contract will be made with that company. Of course the Dun Aengus is quite obviously the best boat available for the service.
I also think that the Bill is an improvement in respect of the change  with regard to the subsidy. I think it was better to leave the Department free in that matter to decide from year to year as to what the amount of the subsidy should be. With closer co-operation between the company and the Minister's officials and a tightening up of the control of the service. I believe that the loss can be very considerably reduced. I know the Minister's difficulty in dealing with the payment of a subsidy to private companies. I know it is not a satisfactory arrangement, but in this case I think it is inevitable.
Mr. Lemass: The curtailment of the service during the war was not due to any cause other than the insufficient supply of coal, and it would not be possible yet to restore the full pre-war service. The intention, however, is that the bi-weekly service will be operated again when the fuel difficulties have ended. I could not at present attempt to forecast when that will be. All transport services depending upon supplies of coal are curtailed at the present time and are likely to be curtailed for some time yet. The Bill does not provide that the agreement for the continuation of the service will be made with the Galway Bay Steamship Company, but it is intended that the agreement will be with that company. It is, I think, clear that a better agreement, either in respect of the transport facilities to be provided or the amount of subsidy required, could not be made with anybody else. In that situation, it seemed to me desirable that the agreement should be with the old company which has been for so long associated with this particular service.
The provision of a system of through rates in respect of merchandise shipped to the island would not require that this service should be operated by Córas Iompair Eireann. I think such an arrangement could be made by agreement between the Galway Bay Steamship Company and Córas Iompair Éireann. There is the physical difficulty to which Deputy Bartley referred, that there is no connection between the railway station and the quay. But, no doubt, the shipping company or the railway company could  themselves provide, or could arrange with other contractors to provide, transport facilities over that distance. It may be that the total volume of traffic involved would not be sufficient to justify a system of through rates but so far as I know, there is no practical reason why it should not be possible and, no doubt, the board of the company could be inspired to investigate the matter further.
The boat is at present awaiting overhaul in Dublin and the speedy passage of this Bill will result in the speedy restoration of the service because, until the Bill is passed, the dockyard company can have no certainty that the overhaul and repairs which it effects can be paid for. Therefore, I ask the co-operation of Deputies from Galway on both sides of the House in getting the Bill speedily through the Oireachtas.
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