Supplementary Estimate, 1946-47. - Adjournment—Abbeyleix Turf Bank.

Tuesday, 21 May 1946

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 101 No. 4

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An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Eamonn O'Neill  Zoom on Eamonn O'Neill  On the Adjournment, Deputy O'Higgins is raising the subject matter of a question on to-day's Order Paper.

Dr. O'Higgins: Information on Dr Thomas Francis O'Higgins Snr.  Zoom on Dr Thomas Francis O'Higgins Snr.  At Question Time to-day I addressed a question to the Minister for Local Government and Public Health inquiring from him if he was aware of the fact that Laoighis County Council had taken over an area of bog at Derrykearn and dispossessed 11 families who had previously been working that bog, and if that was correct would he take the necessary steps to see that these people were still allowed to work their portion of the bog. The reply that I got from the Parliamentary Secretary stated:—

“I am aware that the Laoighis County Council acquired portion of Derrykearn Bog and that up to 1945 the county council granted temporary turf production facilities in the bog to a number of private persons. I am informed that these facilities have been withdrawn as the council have undertaken turf production in the area for the 1946 season so as to produce the quantity of turf required. The persons concerned were fully aware that the accommodation provided was of temporary duration. I am informed that there are alternative bogs in the district available for letting on terms not less favourable than those granted by the county council. If this accommodation is not available or cannot be obtained the county council should be so informed in order that the matter may be reexamined.”

From a Government point of view this may appear to be a very small matter, just a matter involving the rights of 11 humble families. From the point of view of principle, it is a matter of the utmost importance.

It raises the question, whether the State is the State machine or whether the State is the odd 3,000,000 human beings that go to make up the State or nation. It also raises the question as to whether the rights and convenience of humble people within the State, or the rights and convenience of councils and management schemes within the State are of the greater importance. The position with regard to this particular turf bank is as follows: There are people that live and farm right on the edge of that turf bank. A certain number of families, three in number, have been cutting turf there for the last 25 years. It was part of their farming economy. The farms were there, the houses were there and the turf bank was there adjacent to the farms. When the emergency started the Government and Deputies from all Parties called on the public to bend their backs to the task of producing fuel and food, and when people in the turf areas were prohibited from using coal or from getting turf elsewhere they were exhorted to make arrangements to supply their own turf needs. A number of families from Abbeyleix town and neighbourhood six years ago took, at a rather high rent, the balance of this particular turf bank, the remainder of the population of that town taking any banks that were worth cutting on the De Vesci estate. In the [495] case of this particular turf bank, roads were made into it and bridges built by the 11 families in question. They paid their rent to a man named Gorry. When that particular gentleman passed out of ownership, the ownership passed over to a man named Tynan. Last year there were certain delays and certain difficulties in the path of these 11 families in getting to their turf bank for that season.

Unwisely and foolishly, but in simple good faith and in a trusting disposition, these 11 families went to the county surveyor of the Laoighis County Council and appealed to that body, in the interests of national fuel production and in the interests of their own economy, to see fair play and to insist that those banks would be set to them for a further period. The county surveyor came out to the banks, met representatives of the 11 families, and stated to them: “I will get the county council to take over this portion of bank and the county council will let it to you people again.” That was the ideal solution. It pleased everyone and it was the way of getting the job done quickly.

What was the amazement of these unfortunate, poor people when, five or six days later, they saw the county council lorries arriving with implements and squads of men, who started to cut turf for the county council. The 11 families were left without turf. What I am stating here was, written to the county council by the solicitor employed to act on behalf of these 11 families and it was not contradicted. The letter went to the county manager. It said:—

“All those people had turf banks rented from Mr. John Tynan of Ballinree, Abbeyleix, since the emergency and three of them were cutting turf on these banks for 20 or 25 years past. Early in the present year Mr. Tynan hinted that he would not renew the letting of the banks to these people. As a result of this they called upon the county surveyor and at the interview the county surveyor stated that if Mr. Tynan did not give the banks to them the county council [496] would take over the banks compulsorily from Mr. Tynan and rent them to these people. The county council did, in fact, take over the banks but instead of giving them to the people who had been cutting turf there for years the county council cut turf on them for themselves, thus leaving these 11 families without any turf bank whatsoever.”

That letter was addressed to the county manager. It was dated 16th April, 1946, and the county manager replied on the 23rd April. He did not deny a single statement contained in the letter. The reply was as follows:—

“I am directed by the county manager to inform you that your clients were, as a special case, given permission to cut turf last year on the portion of Derrykearn Bog vested in the county council. In order that the council may provide the quantity of turf required of them by Fuel Importers, Ltd., in the current season it is now necessary that they work the bogland in question to the full extent and it is regretted, therefore, that the concession granted your clients cannot be continued this year. I am to point out, at the same time, that it is understood that lettings of suitable turf banks in the neighbourhood of Abbeyleix can be obtained from the De Vesci estate.”

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to pay attention to the wording of this letter. A special concession was made the previous year to allow these unfortunate people to continue to enjoy rights which they had enjoyed for 25 years, to continue to enjoy the rights of cutting turf in an area they had drained and bridged and made roads into. It was a particular concession that they were not kicked out last year, but that they are kicked out this year, and that in the interest of one of the big concerns, namely, Fuel Importers, Limited.

In the Parliamentary Secretary's reply he states that there are suitable turf banks that can be procured by these people on the De Vesci estate. Suitable from what point of view? Is it suitable from the point of view of [497] turf, or is it suitable from the point of view of convenience? There are three people living and farming in the Derrykearn bog, two of them tilling 30 acres. They are to cut and drag and haul turf four and a half miles with their ponies and jennets and donkeys, absolutely interfering either with their turf production or their tillage. If the turf on the De Vesci estate is suitable for these people, then surely it is suitable for Fuel Importers, Limited, and the extra few miles are much easier travelled in a county council motor lorry than by these people with their little donkeys and ponies.

The fact of the matter is that every good turf bank on the De Vesci estate was taken the first year of the emergency and these people went to Derrykearn. What is left in the De Vesci estate—at least, I have the word of experts in that area—is entirely unsuitable turf. The county surveyor would not touch it for that reason. The county manager, in his reply, when he says that there is alternative turf available, adds the words “it is understood”. Surely it is not so far from the county manager and the county management machine that he cannot ascertain whether there is or is not suitable turf available? If there is suitable turf available, it is available for the county council.

I am raising this matter not by way of controversy or anything like that, but just as a simple, trusting advocate of fair play. I want protection for humble individuals from a mighty machine. If the other turf is not so good and if it is less get-at-able, those are difficulties that are more easily surmounted by a great machine like the county council and its staff than by these little people. One of the families concerned is a family of blacksmiths, people of exceptionally high character and of outstanding craftsmanship, people who have been doing smithy work for a very large portion of the county. The Parliamentary Secretary knows that for a business such as that you want high-quality turf, and even the best turf could scarcely be regarded as suitable. Three of the people concerned are farmers living on [498] the spot. Half a dozen others are working men who have to borrow the use of a donkey.

I am appealing to the Parliamentary Secretary to get this whole situation properly and sympathetically considered. I am perfectly satisfied from the reply given me to-day that it was based on information received only from one side. Does it matter whether the county council took over this bank in March last or March 12 months? We have the word of the Minister for Supplies that any people who were renting or working banks before the emergency would not be disturbed. We have the word of the county manager for the neighbouring County of Tipperary that, where the county council took over a turf bog, any of the people who were renting and working banks in that bog would not be disturbed. Is it right that we have one law laid down by the Minister for Supplies and another law carried out by the county manager in Leix; that we have one code of justice in the County Tipperary and a code of injustice in the County Leix? It is with a spirit of confidence and hope that I place these facts before the Parliamentary Secretary, confident that a big injustice will be rectified.

Mr. Davin: Information on William Davin  Zoom on William Davin  I received representations concerning this case and I am fairly well acquainted with the area and with the facts. I can fully confirm the statement made by my colleague, Deputy O'Higgins. Deputy O'Higgins has made an unanswerable case. I know of a similar case near the town of Portarlington in which the Turf Development Board not very long ago interfered in the same way as the county council and county manager have interfered with the rights of local people in this case. When the full facts of that case were put before the Turf Development Board, the board rightly and generously withdrew and restored the rights of the people who had been cutting turf in the place for a long number of years.

Deputy O'Higgins has made an unanswerable case for the same type of action in relation to the 11 people concerned in this case, and I appeal to [499] the Parliamentary Secretary to use his influence and his good offices to persuade the county manager to change his attitude. If the county manager and the county council, prompted by the Parliamentary Secretary and the Minister for Industry and Commerce, want to maintain the production of turf in this county at the same level as last year, they can have my assurance, from a fairly good knowledge of the turf banks in this county, that better turf can easily be got from many other bogs in the county, and even in the same area, without causing the inconvenience which has been caused to a large number of residents in this case.

Mr. Flanagan: Information on Oliver J. Flanagan  Zoom on Oliver J. Flanagan  As a member of Laoighis County Council, I am very familiar with the case presented to the House by Deputy O'Higgins and I join with him and Deputy Davin in appealing to the Parliamentary Secretary to see that something is done for these eleven people upon whom great injustice has been done. For the information of the Parliamentary Secretary, I might point out that the Laoighis County Council have received a notification from the Department of Local Government that the quantity of turf to be produced in the county this year has been considerably reduced. I put the matter before the county manager some weeks ago and asked him to get the county engineer's approval for the cutting of some of the bogs on which the county council had ceased production this year, and for leaving the Derrykearn bog to the eleven tenants who have been cutting there for a number of years past.

It is a disgraceful state of affairs that these people in the immediate neighbourhood of that bog should be asked to go four-and-a-half or five miles to secure their turbary, and that the local authority should deprive these people of what they are duly entitled to have at their own doors. I join with my colleagues in appealing to the Parliamentary Secretary to have the other side of the case investigated, because I am convinced that, as Deputy Higgins has said, he got only the county council's side of the story. As I say, [500] I am a member of the county council, and, with all due respect to the information supplied, as I assume, by the council, I go so far as to say that it is incorrect.

These people have a genuine grievance and it was most unfair for the county surveyor or county manager to take the action taken in depriving these people of their turbary and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to have an immediate investigation made. Even if we do not get good results in this case, we want to see that it will not occur in any part of Laoighis again. I ask him to make arrangements to enable these people, when the county council have secured one cutting from these turf banks, to get at least one year's cutting themselves. They will be quite satisfied to start cutting turf towards the end of June or the first week in July, and I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary should arrange with the county council to have the county council turf collected by that time to enable these people to cut their requirements of turf.

Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Local Government and Public Health (Mr. Childers): Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  The Emergency Powers Order enabling county councils to acquire turbary does not provide the Minister with powers to interfere to any great extent in this matter, and I think it is true to say that the less the Minister interferes actively in the matter of compulsory turf acquisition and turf letting the better. These matters should be settled through consultation with the local authority, and by means of the operation of the ordinary rules of common sense and humanity——

Dr. O'Higgins: Information on Dr Thomas Francis O'Higgins Snr.  Zoom on Dr Thomas Francis O'Higgins Snr.  And fair play.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  ——in the area. The target for Laoighis County Council for turf production has been reduced, but that target has to be achieved, as we understand, along with a very heavy road resurfacing programme. These lessees were warned quite definitely that it might be necessary for the county council to resume the occupation of these lettings in order to carry out effectively and efficiently the production of turf on the bog in question. [501] The lessees were offered turf, which was admittedly brown and not black, at what would appear to be the same distance from most of their dwellings, at 4/6 to 5/- a perch instead of £2 14s. 0d. They were offered this turf on the de Vesci estate.

There are 150 persons cutting on the bog which has been offered as a substitute, and, while I understand that the development of the bog is not uniform in quality, it is possible to provide these lessees with suitable bog. They were offered, as a second alternative, turf on the Wood Street bog, and two families have already taken up banks in that area. That particular bog has the disadvantage of being farther away. I am interested to hear from Deputy O'Higgins that one of the lessees is a farrier of very high reputation. We have not been informed with regard to that matter but, in view of the fact that the Deputies have made representations, I am perfectly willing to communicate once more with the county surveyor and to make quite sure that the facts are as stated.

We can do no more than to act informally and unofficially. It would be most undesirable for officials of the [502] Local Government Department to have any direct control over the very pressing work of trying to distribute turf lettings to persons who have not been able to get turbary and providing for the production of turf for Fuel Importers, Limited, and enabling families to acquire temporary lettings. We are being constantly accused of dictatorship in local government affairs, and it comes rather badly that we should be criticised when we do allow a large measure of initiative to a local authority, but, as I have said, I will make further inquiries and I can assure-Deputies that, acting unofficially and informally, we will see that whatever can be done will be done in the interests of both parties.

Dr. O'Higgins: Information on Dr Thomas Francis O'Higgins Snr.  Zoom on Dr Thomas Francis O'Higgins Snr.  I am grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for the manner in which he has approached this question. As a Deputy, he is not unfamiliar with bog areas, and does it not strike him that the fact that people want to pay £2 14s. 0d. in one place, as against 4/6 in the other, bears. out the case I made?

The Dáil adjourned at 10.10 p.m., until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 22nd May.

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