Wednesday, 21 November 1956
Dáil Éireann Debate
That, for the purpose of any Act of the present session to provide for the making and execution of coast protection schemes and to provide for other matters connected with the matters aforesaid, it is expedient to authorise:—
(a) the payment out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas, save as otherwise directed by such Act, of a sum not exceeding one-half of the costs and expenses incurred in executing a coast protection scheme confirmed pursuant to such Act (including the cost of the preparation of the scheme, all compensation and other moneys payable and all incidental expenditure);
 (b) the payment out of moneys provided by the Oireachtas of the expenses incurred by the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland in giving effect to such Act and in the administration thereof.
Mr. Sweetman: I thought the Deputy, since he did not sit down, was going to ask another question. As I explained on the Second Reading, we cannot possibly tell at this stage what the final financial implications will be because we do not know the full extent of coast erosion. Until such time as it is possible to have the examinations, surveys and preparation of schemes for which provision is made in this Bill, it is not possible to forecast the cost of any particular scheme. This Bill is a machinery Bill to enable schemes to be prepared and surveys made. When the schemes have been prepared and the surveys made, then we will see the cost in relation to each particular scheme and then we will be able to assess the cost in relation to the State as a whole. For me at the moment to attempt to give the Deputy, or the House, any estimate of the total cost would be completely misleading and I know the Deputy would not wish me to do that. Until the problem has been examined under the mechanics provided in this Bill we cannot really make any estimate, and any estimate we did make would be more than the wildest guess.
Mr. Corry: The Minister will have no trouble at all in giving an estimate. I will give it to him now. This Money Resolution renders the Bill unworkable, and the Minister knows that. There is a rather peculiar history in  relation to coast erosion. The Government and Government Departments are responsible for the fact that the money is not there to deal with coast erosion. Under the Compulsory Act of 1923 officials from the Department of Lands were sent down through the country, having power under that Act to withhold certain sums which were to be used for the protection of the lands affected and the protection of embankments. They did not do that. They allowed the landlords to get away with the loot. Now, the Minister comes in here with a Bill which he knows is unworkable. The Minister is not a child. The Minister served some little bit of time on a public authority. He has already had proposals for Ringabella and the expenditure there will be something over £200,000.
Mr. Corry: I have no objection to the principle of the Bill. The Bill is long overdue. But the principle involved in this 50 per cent., which throws a burden on the ratepayers, renders the Bill unworkable.
Mr. Corry: If I could get the action of the people on last Wednesday to work towards the partial conversion of the Minister, I would be satisfied. The position is that this should be a full State liability seeing that the introduction of this Bill is to remedy a situation for which the State is responsible.
Mr. Corry: I say it is no use voting this money on the ground that no local authority to my knowledge will be prepared to give the other 50 per cent. I have very definite knowledge of my own local authority. I know what happened there. Two areas in Cork County are affected by coast erosion. In the town of Youghal one penny in the £ at the moment makes £46. Where the amount needed for coast erosion is £26,000, that means £13,000 to be provided where one penny in the £ brings in £46.
In Ringabella, in South Cork, there is a scheme at an estimated cost of close on £400,000. The total number of county councillors representing that area is eight out of 64. Therefore, the Bill is completely unworkable. At the moment there are proposals before the Minister and before the Minister for Local Government in relation to the line from Ballymacoda right into Ballycotton involving an expenditure of something in the region of £40,000. Any man in his senses knows that the  hope of six or seven councillors, representing one area which is affected, putting a burden of £2/- in the £ on the ratepayers of the rest of the county is something that will not materialise. Therefore, whatever time and money was wasted in preparing this Bill might as well be thrown in the tide.
It is a waste of public money and a waste of our time here. The Minister must have been living up in the clouds, far removed from contact with the rural community, when he devised a Bill of the type we have here. He has the pleasure of representing here an inland area which is not affected, but I wonder if there was one portion of his county affected and if three or four county councillors representing the area came in with a bill for £20,000 to him in his capacity as county councillor for another area, what would be his attitude?
At present, rates in this country have been brought to breaking point. In my county, owing to the machinations of the Coalition Government, the bulk of the rates this year will have to be collected by the bailiffs, and yet the Minister comes in and wastes the time of the House and incurs the expense of drafting and everything else on a thing of this description!
The Minister knows it is unworkable, and I definitely oppose the Bill in regard to this Money Resolution. It has rendered the whole Bill unworkable because there is no hope of getting anything out of it except the mere assertion: “We brought in the Bill and it is up to the local authorities to work it if they like.” This kind of bluff has gone on too long in this House and outside, and it is time somebody called it.
Mr. Beegan: I think it is agreed even by Deputy Corry that the protection of our coastline is a very desirable objective, but if the principle of the Bill is sound, it is rendered unsound  if the financial provisions are not such as would make it workable.
As far as I know the principal scheme for which this Bill is introduced is concerned with County Wexford where I am sure a very large sum of money would be needed to repair the damage and prevent further coast erosion. In that case, I think on Section 19 of the Bill, we would be entitled to put forward arguments which I hope will convince the Minister that he should, instead of having a definite percentage named, have an elastic section which would enable him if a case is made to him-as I am sure it could be made-that 50 per cent. on the local ratepayers of a county would be far too great a burden, he could, even if it went to 80 per cent. or 90 per cent., use his discretion and make that sum available.
There are, perhaps, a number of minor schemes all round the coast where local authorities could put up 50 per cent. or something near it, but in my opinion it would be better to leave out the stipulated percentage altogether and leave it to the discretion of the Minister. But we want assurances from the Minister on Section 19 of the Bill that on Report Stage, when he listens to the arguments on that section, he will be prepared to bring in amendments to meet our point of view.
We know what the position of arterial drainage was over a number of years and of the series of attempts that were made to solve it. There was never any real attempt made to satisfy the people generally until the 1945 Arterial Drainage Act came, under which the State undertook to pay the full amount. I am not going to go as far as that because I believe this is somewhat different, but I think there should be elasticity in that section so that when a good case is made to the Minister proving, perhaps, that if erosion is allowed to go on, areas close to the sea will be obliterated and, perhaps, if allowed to go further, it would endanger the position of the capital town in the county and its population, he can meet it. I think that in that case, the Minister or any Minister for  Finance in any Government should be prepared to listen to reason and should also be prepared to place themselves in the position where they could use discretion to accept what would be the expert advice put forward by the local authorities.
As Deputy Corry pointed out, I fear that in its present form and with the financial provisions that are being out lined in the Bill, even a local authority could not take it on themselves to promote a scheme because they would know very well, where a very large sum of money would be involved, it would be only a waste of time. They may do it in the hope that there would be a change of attitude on the part of the existing Government or some future Government, but that is the only incentive they have, to go to the trouble of promoting a scheme at all.
That is the attitude I would like to take on this Bill. I think it is a fairly reasonable attitude and I am sure the Minister knows very well from all that has been put to him by members of various Parties from various constituencies where this problem is very acute, that if he does not do something like that, it would be just as well, as Deputy Corry said, not to introduce the Bill at all. I think we could let the Money Resolution go through and argue particularly on Section 19 of the Bill.
Mr. Allen: There is no doubt that the provisions in this Money Resolution will ensure that so far as major or urgent schemes are concerned not a shilling will be spent. If the Minister or the Government think they are doing anyone who is concerned about an urgent or a major scheme any good by this measure they are making a great mistake. The time of the House should not be taken up with such proposed legislation. It will not work where it is urgently needed.
The Minister for Finance knows quite well that the background to this Bill is provided by Rosslare. There may be some other areas where the erosion problem is not so urgent. This is a matter of serious urgency for some time past. It has been under consideration for over 50 years. The  Great Western Railways were responsible for this erosion, but those multimillionaires are not now being held responsible. C.I.E., whose main line to Rosslare Harbour is threatened, have not been suggested as contributors.
This is a more serious matter than the Government appear to appreciate. It involves the livelihood and the homes of a large number of people in Rosslare and its vicinity. It deserves the best will and the most sympathetic consideration we can give it. All we do give it is a piece of permissive legislative machinery. No local authority can commit their ratepayers to the amount of expenditure that would be necessary to prevent or arrest erosion in that one area in Wexford. The half-dozen councillors who represent the area concerned know that it is futile for them to go to a county council meeting and tell the general meeting that it will cost the county ratepayers between 2/- and 4/- in the £ to arrest this erosion. The council would be very slow to pass the necessary resolution.
This should be appreciated by the Government. As Deputy Beegan has pointed out, unless the Minister is prepared to relax and change his present attitude untold damage will be done. The Minister should provide that, in consultation with his colleague, the Minister for Local Government, a scheme would be hammered out that would not impose so much difficulty on the local authorities concerned. It is our duty to inform the Minister that we do not think this Bill will work. It may work in the case of minor schemes but not in the case of Rosslare where considerable expenditure will be necessary. Nearly 30 years ago a group of experts estimated that a huge sum would be necessary for it.
Neither the State nor the local authority at that time was prepared to undertake the work and the damage has been going on progressively since, so much so that it has now reached a critical stage. We shall have something else to say on that aspect of the matter when we come to the appropriate section of the Bill, under which provision is made for delays. It could  take anything from five to six years to make a start on this work. The Minister and Government should make up their minds, if they want to save Rosslare and other areas where crises exist, that the local ratepayers will be unable to meet the demand that this Bill would impose on them.
County Wexford ratepayers contribute something like £350,000 annually to public services. The State as a whole contributes £140,000,000. We would not object to this Bill if it provided that the contribution of the ratepayers to the prevention of erosion would be on that proportion. The ratepayers would be pleased to pay on that basis. Any Government must realise that the position in Rosslare has been getting progressively worse over the past 40 years. We know the history of the whole thing; we know that the Government should be responsible for the maintaining of the foreshores. Under Article 42 (2) of the Constitution, “the domain and ownership of the seas surrounding the Republic, and the creeks, bays and ports and tidal waters” are vested in the State. The State is also responsible under the Foreshores Act, the State Property Act and all other Acts, for the maintenance of the foreshores which are vested either in the Department of Local Government or in the Department of Finance.
When you consider the question of saving Rosslare you must agree that the foreshore is the vital matter; it is the foreshore that is being washed away. There is no mention of the foreshore in this Bill. I am wondering if the job can be done at all; if some legal luminary will not advise that because the land is not affected to any great extent the local authority have no power to do this work. However, the Government have the responsibility to protect the people from the ravages of the sea just as they are responsible for protecting them against invasion, pestilence and famine.
Mr. Allen: The gallery does not concern me at all. It concerns the Minister in whose mind the word “gallery” is very foremost at the moment. I am pointing out in all seriousness the urgent need for a scheme of work in Rosslare. Under the provisions of this Bill I am afraid that work will never be done and that we are wasting time discussing it if the Minister does not change his mind and agree that this work is the responsibility of the State. Local authorities could not possibly do all the work necessary to save the foreshores. There are 12 maritime counties in the Republic and I should think that Cork and Wexford have the longest. The other 14 non-maritime counties will get off scot free under this Bill. It is unfortunate for the 12 maritime counties that under this legislation the Minister will not undertake the duties of the State. Instead he would tax the ratepayers who at the moment are organising and sending deputations——
Mr. Allen: I am pointing out in defence of my argument that urgent coast protection schemes are needed and that the local authorities will be unable to provide the proportion of the expenditure they are being asked for under this Bill.
Mr. Allen: The Minister should relax and agree to provide the full amount towards these schemes. Every citizen in the State has a right to demand from the Government and the nation that his property should be protected and that the small men living in cottages in the mountains, 40 or 50 miles from the coast should not be asked to contribute.
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