Private Members' Business. - Local Authorities (Works) Act—Motion (Resumed).

Friday, 11 December 1959

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 178 No. 9

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Debate resumed on the following motion:

Dáil Éireann is of the opinion that, as a practical step to stimulate increased production through the improvement of the fertility of our land by badly needed drainage schemes and at the same time help to relieve unemployment in rural areas the necessary moneys to put [1458] the Local Authorities (Works) Act into operation should be provided immediately.—(Deputies McQuillan and Dr. Browne).

Minister for Local Government (Mr. Blaney): Information on Neil T.C. Blaney  Zoom on Neil T.C. Blaney  On Wednesday night I had dealt to some degree with the terms of the motion, particularly inasmuch as drainage was being related to the call for increased agricultural production by the Government. I endeavoured to point out that the wish of the Government was clearly exemplified in this regard by the measures which they have taken and continue to take in regard to drainage, particularly arterial drainage. I pointed out that the recent five year programme envisages during these coming years an increasing tempo in arterial drainage, rising to an expenditure of around £700,000 in the year 1961-62, which will show a 60 per cent. increase on the expenditure before this five year plan was brought into being a short time ago. I have shown in that context that the Government fully realise the necessity for and the usefulness of arterial drainage in relation to increased and improved agricultural production.

I went on at that stage to outline the arguments and the resolutions that were being forwarded continuously by various local authorities calling for the restoration of Local Authorities (Works) Act grants and made the case that £7½ million has been spent over the years since Local Authorities (Works) Act grants of 100 per cent. were introduced, that this is very big money and that the decision to continue to spend in that order is not just a matter for local authorities to decide but a major question of national economics and that it must, of necessity, be left to the Government of the day to consider the demands for money under this head as against the competing demands for money for other more directly productive purposes.

I also want to reiterate that of the £7,500,000 spent under the Local Authorities (Works) Act, one-half was spent on road protection works, leaving the other half for the very laudable purpose of land drainage, which has [1459] been the subject of practically the whole of the debate so far. Again, from my own examination and the examination carried out by my Department of the usefulness of works carried out under the Local Authorities (Works) Act, I am quite satisfied that only a small fraction of the drainage works so carried out were really effective and represented good spending and that that fraction was so small that it certainly does not justify the expenditure of the £7,500,000 which we know to have been expended during those years.

I have also made it quite clear that in the spending of these moneys, with particular reference to the schemes that did not represent good value, no one can blame the officers of the local authorities or the local engineers. Drainage is not their field of operation and, indeed, they would be the last to maintain that it is. The difficulties and complexities of drainage are problems which should properly be left to those who are experts in that field, who are skilled in dealing with such matters. Local authorities are not the people best suited to do that job if there is in existence any other organisation better geared to carry out the work. Naturally, officers and engineers of local authorities have a vast variety of other work to do which has prior call on their attention. That in itself is a fairly strong argument why this difficult and complex problem should not be shoved on to them as it has been shoved on to them under the Local Authorities (Works) Act. Proper surveys were not, in all cases, made of the jobs, with the result that the finished products suffered.

The other very important point which has been adverted to by a number of Deputies on all sides of the House is the fact that no provision was made for the maintenance of drainage works carried out under the Local Authorities (Works) Act. It is quite true that no one prevents the local authorities from maintaining these jobs. Far from the case being as Deputy O'Donnell seemed to give us to understand the other night, we are [1460] not in any legal difficulty in so far as maintenance is concerned. His suggestion that maintenance of any work done in the past or of work carried out under the Act could in future be by way of another new job under the Local Authorities (Works) Act does not reach the point at issue at all. Local authorities are not prevented from carrying out maintenance work but the fact is that there is no way of ensuring that it will be done and there is no evidence that, in fact, it has been done in the case of any of the drainage works which are now falling into the condition in which they were before considerable sums of Local Authorities (Works) Act moneys were spent on them in the recent past.

All these considerations, of course, were foremost in the mind of the Government when, in 1957, they decided to cease the 100 per cent. grants under the Local Authorities (Works) Act and the arguments have not been in any way rebutted or refuted by anything I have heard in this debate so far and they are as valid to-day as they were then.

We are fully alive to the fact that drainage must be related to an overall plan. That fact was recognised as far back as 1945, in the Arterial Drainage Act and by that Act and, from that time on, we have been trying to deal with drainage as a planned operation rather than a piecemeal job that will be done and forgotten about and the land allowed to revert to its former state. When it is piecemeal it is bad enough but when it is piecemeal without maintenance, as has been the case under the Local Authorities (Works) Act, then it does appear that money so spent in any considerable amount is money that is to a very large degree wasted after a few years.

Deputy Dr. Browne raised a question, as one might expect, related in some degree to the problem of drainage in the city areas. Let me say at the outset that the Local Authorities (Works) Act grants were never availed of for drainage in the city area. The possible reason for that is that the drainage problem within the city areas and around them, can be dealt with under the [1461] sanitary service grants and that they will continue to be so dealt with in the future, I have no doubt.

Deputy Blowick gave the impression that it was his sound and confirmed belief that the stopping of the Local Authorities (Works) Act grants in 1957 was merely for the sake of stopping work under that Act because originally it was sponsored by some Party other than that now in Government. He would seek to convey the impression that regardless of anything else, that was the only test applied before a decision was arrived at. I want to tell Deputy Blowick and the members of the House—and there are some members who can bear out my statement—that so far as the Government are concerned, that type of charge is entirely groundless. In so far as I am personally concerned, the considerations alleged by Deputy Blowick carried no weight whatever. Far from my being in any way against the ends for which the Local Authorities (Works) Act would appear to have been introduced I, at no time, in my own local authority, did anything but utilise the amount of money which was available, and available as 100 per cent. free grants from the Government. In my own county and in my own area, it can be seen from the records that so far as I was concerned as an individual councillor, representing a given area, I tried to get all I could out of the Act. That is just the trouble—that was the type of system it was. You had every county trying to get everything they could because it cost the county nothing. I got all I could out of it in my area and I encouraged everyone in my area to do the same.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: Information on Michael Pat Murphy  Zoom on Michael Pat Murphy  That is a ridiculous argument for any Minister to advance. If that is all the Minister can say, he should sit down.

Mr. Blaney: Information on Neil T.C. Blaney  Zoom on Neil T.C. Blaney  I suggest that the Deputy should mind his own business. If he does not want to listen, he can leave the House.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: Information on Michael Pat Murphy  Zoom on Michael Pat Murphy  It is some of my business.

Mr. Blaney: Information on Neil T.C. Blaney  Zoom on Neil T.C. Blaney  It is not part of the Deputy's business to tell me to sit [1462] down. There is a Deputy in the Chair whole business it is to deal with such matters. I did not hear the Deputy speak much on the motion so far.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: Information on Michael Pat Murphy  Zoom on Michael Pat Murphy  The Minister knows the time is limited.

Mr. Blaney: Information on Neil T.C. Blaney  Zoom on Neil T.C. Blaney  It was not so limited the other night. However, to get back to Deputy Blowick and his charge that this decision was taken purely because the Act was introduced by a Government other than the present Government, as I say, that has no foundation and so far as I, as Minister, am concerned, it is very far from the truth. Deputy Blowick, as well as other Deputies, admitted that there may be faults in the present system and together with other Deputies on that side of the House, advocated amendments of the Act in order to eradicate some of these faults. The fact that amendments are being called for by the Opposition is surely an indication that all was never well with this Act. I am not one of those who believe that an amendment can improve it to any degree, or remove any of the objections which we have outlined in the past and which I have endeavoured to outline briefly here to-day.

As I said, I have never taken any action to sabotage in any way the effects of this Act. I have never denied that useful work could be done under the Act but the amount of useful work done under it is so small as not to justify the huge expenditure involved. I think I have on a former occasion, on an Estimate speech—I think even this year—mentioned the one type of work which would appear to me to have been possible under the Act and which could be regarded as useful, provided you had the adequate safeguard about maintenance, which does not seem to be possible, that is, the drainage of those rivers which lie between the listed catchment areas, as we know them, under the Arterial Drainage Act, right down to the level of the Land Project operations. In other words, that would take in those catchment areas of under 25,000 acres down to the field drainage level. It has been and still is a problem that would no doubt eventually be dealt with by [1463] the arterial drainage people when they had completed their listed catchment areas.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Sheldon): Information on William Alexander Sheldon  Zoom on William Alexander Sheldon  The Minister has just two or three minutes left to conclude. The speakers are being limited in their time.

Mr. Blaney: Information on Neil T.C. Blaney  Zoom on Neil T.C. Blaney  I am afraid I had completely forgotten that. In regard to this matter then, let me say that the type of scheme would fall within those limits. The type of scheme would naturally have to be properly surveyed and designed and adequate steps taken for maintenance. The proper people no doubt to do that, as we have our general administration, would be the arterial drainage people in the Office of Public Works. Of course the Local Authorities (Works) Act operations would only be a second best. We have found that in the past, in regard to this matter, that the arterial drainage people were faced with two big obstacles when undertaking this work. There was the difficulty of expanding still further and the difficulty of not having sufficient skilled staff and insufficient machinery to do this type of work in conjunction with, and simultaneously with, the larger areas to which they have been devoting their time.

That brings us to the point at which I can inform Deputies that arrangements are now being made with the Office of Public Works and they will, in the near future, take on a certain number of this type of intermediate rivers in addition to, and over and above the arterial drainage work they are now doing. The details of this arrangement are not finalised and that, if I may now say so, has been the cause of my seeming reluctance to reply for or against this whole matter on various questions over the months to Deputy McQuillan and others. I want to say now that the matter is in hands with the Board of Works and we trust that they will take care of many of the rivers not forming part of the larger arterial drainage systems which are running more or less directly to the sea. In order to avoid a bottleneck and get over the difficulty of getting [1464] in more skilled staff and machinery, it is proposed to employ contractors to do these works under the supervision of, and after proper survey by, the Board of Works staff.

Mr. McQuillan: Information on John McQuillan  Zoom on John McQuillan  Are these the rivers the Minister referred to earlier —rivers that flow directly into the sea?

Mr. Blaney: Information on Neil T.C. Blaney  Zoom on Neil T.C. Blaney  Mainly—almost entirely, but as I said, not solely.

Mr. McQuillan: Information on John McQuillan  Zoom on John McQuillan  We know the areas affected, Donegal and Kerry.

Mr. Blaney: Information on Neil T.C. Blaney  Zoom on Neil T.C. Blaney  I do not want to take up more time than I should. I am referring to rivers that do not form part of a larger arterial system or those flowing directly into the sea and of course those of a non-torrential nature which the Board of Works and the arterial drainage people are much better able to define than I can define them here. When these arrangements are in operation, the position will be that the schemes which I and the Government believe could usefully be done under the Local Authorities (Works) Act will be taken care of by the Board of Works and the arterial drainage officials and done better than they could be done by any other agency in the country.

In these circumstances, I want to make it quite clear that the Local Authorities (Works) Act grants of 100 per cent. will not be revived by the Government and that the Government adhere to the decision arrived at in 1957 and, with the new relief that we now foresee coming into being in the very near future, under the Office of Public Works we propose to deal with these useful jobs of intermediate river drainage.

Mr. Wycherley: Information on Florence Wycherley  Zoom on Florence Wycherley  The Minister for Local Government is the most courageous man I have heard in this House since I came into it because everyone from every side of the House who has spoken so far on this motion has agreed on the absolute necessity for implementing the Local Authorities (Works) Act. Cork County Council, comprised of 46 members of all Paries, [1465] were unanimous in their view that it was necessary to put this Act into operation. The General Council of County Councils, made up of members of County Councils in every county in Ireland, were also unanimous in their belief that this Act should be put into operation immediately. I realise that there were abuses in the administration of the Act but I hold that the local authorities were not to blame. If £7½ million were spent under the Local Authorities (Works) Act in the few years of its operation, it should have done a tremendous amount of good in the clearing of rivers all over the country and I have no doubt that the intention behind the Act was to clean the rivers which were doing so much damage to land, houses, roads and property generally. But what do we find? Of the £7½ million spent, half was spent in road construction and I am informed some of the money was spent even on making footpaths in villages.

I feel that if the Minister who produced this Act were alive, that would not happen, that he would insist that there should be no regulations under which that money would be spent in that way. I know also regulations are laid down which compel the local authorities to spend that money in the winter when it is practically impossible to clear the rivers. The money spent in that way was wasted to a large extent. If the best value is to be got out of money allocated for this purpose, it should be spent in the spring, summer and autumn and not in the winter.

The idea behind spending it in winter was to provide employment without any consideration for the importance of the work to be done. I know that money was wasted but I saw one good job done under the Act in the last year in which money was provided. It was the clearing of a river, a work which was carried out in the month of March. It was over one mile long and the job was done for £1,000 by machinery and a few men. If we are to clean the rivers of the country, it must be done largely on that basis. I know the members of the Labour [1466] Party will not like me to say that but the fact remains that it is waste of money to expect men to go into rivers in the depth of winter, because actually they would be swept away by the floods.

Good work on rivers cannot be done in winter. It must be done in reasonably fine weather and done by excavators and drag-line crawler tractors. That is how it was done in West Cork under the Local Authorities (Works) Act. If the Minister comes to West Cork I shall show him that scheme and he can see where the bed of the river was scooped up and laid out in the fields and the maintenance of that river will not worry the Department or the county council for many a long day because the job was done properly.

I am not so worried about maintenance as the Minister and other Deputies who spoke because if the job is done properly, the river will keep itself clean in our lifetime but when it is done in a haphazard fashion by manual labour, men trying to do a job they are not able to do, it is bound to be a bad job and there is bound to be cribbing and grousing about the expenditure of public money. I would not advocate spending public money in any foolish fashion. I like to get value for every £ of public money spent but I should like to advocate spending public money on clearing rivers by machinery and men, clearing obstructions, blasting rocks, removing trunks of trees that are obstructing the free flow of water and blocking bridges, and so on.

Serious damage has been done in my constituency in the past 12 months, damage running into thousands of pounds. We had to pass supplementary estimates in Cork County Council to get over the difficulties caused by this disastrous flooding as a result of the choked conditions of the rivers of West Cork. If we drain these rivers, it will be money well spent. It would be “penny wise and pound foolish” not to do so because in such circumstances the local authorities will be involved in very great expenditure. There was very serious flooding this [1467] year. In Dunmanway, houses were flooded to a depth of four feet; bridges were swept away and roads torn up. I saw roads that were impassable for motor cars when the rivers overflowed because they had never been cleaned for the past 100 years. It is high time that something was done if we are to make any progress. If I were asked how to allocate capital expenditure today, I would give the clearing of those rivers first priority. That is what Cork County Council said when asked to make recommendations about capital expenditure. They gave clearing rivers top priority.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: Information on Michael Pat Murphy  Zoom on Michael Pat Murphy  And the previous Government did the same.

Mr. Wycherley: Information on Florence Wycherley  Zoom on Florence Wycherley  Never was there greater need for this work and I am staking my claim now to at least £100,000 for County Cork, to be spent over the next two or three years on such work. I hope the Minister in his Estimates which he is now preparing will provide money for this essential work. If he does, and if he leaves the carrying out of the work to Cork County Council, I guarantee that there will be no abuses, that the work will be done and that the people will be satisfied with the results. Let the reclamation be proceeded with and the fertilisers and the lime which are being put on the land at the present time will not be swept into the sea by the floods. There is no use fertilising and liming land along the banks of rivers if the floods are to sweep the good results away in a very short time.

The Minister seems to think that arterial drainage is the solution. I know very little about arterial drainage because in the whole of County Cork not one scheme has been carried out under the Arterial Drainage Act. I know that a scheme is being prepared at present for one river, but we have several small rivers the drainage of which would entail an expenditure of only a few thousand pounds. They are entirely too small for the Board of Works to undertake their drainage, but the drainage in these cases could [1468] be profitably undertaken by the local authorities who could do the work, as was done when money was provided in the last year of the other Act, when the County Engineer was allowed to do the work in the month of March.

I shall not detain the House much longer. I know there are other speakers very anxious to speak on this very important motion. I should like to see much more time devoted to it, if that were possible, because I look upon it as the most important motion that has come before the House, on a question where so much is at stake. Even the health of the public is endangered by the flooding of houses and roads. In my own district, last year, a man was drowned on a main road as the result of flooding. He cycled into a flood on the road and lost his life. That is a serious position and we cannot allow it to continue much longer. This is more important than providing aeroplanes, aerodromes or anything else.

Mr. O'Sullivan: Information on Denis O'Sullivan  Zoom on Denis O'Sullivan  That is what you voted for.

Mr. Wycherley: Information on Florence Wycherley  Zoom on Florence Wycherley  We must provide money for the cleaning of rivers. I shall vote according to my conscience. I shall speak according to my conscience as I am doing now, and as I shall continue to do, no matter what Party is in power or what Party is in opposition. I am prepared to give my views as an independent representative, and my view on this is that if money is provided for the cleaning of rivers it will be spent on very useful and profitable work.

I appeal to the Minister to reconsider his decision in the light of all the arguments, put up from every side of the House, and from every council in Ireland. Put the machinery and the men into the rivers immediately, and thereby get rid of the very serious position that has arisen as the result of the serious flooding of lands, houses and roads, and as a result of the losses brought about by flooding.

Mr. Collins: Information on James J. Collins  Zoom on James J. Collins  I shall be very brief.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Cunningham): Information on Liam Cunningham  Zoom on Liam Cunningham  Deputy McQuillan must get in at 12.45.

Mr. Corish: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  The Chair ought to pay a little attention to the Labour Party, small as it might be.

[1469]Acting Chairman:  I am going by the speakers who have spoken.

Mr. Corish: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  There was only one speaker from the Labour Party.

Acting Chairman:  Taking the debate on the motion as a whole, the Labour Party has had a number of speakers.

Mr. Corish: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  Is that so?

Mr. M.P. Murphy: Information on Michael Pat Murphy  Zoom on Michael Pat Murphy  Only one.

Mr. Collins: Information on James J. Collins  Zoom on James J. Collins  As I said, I shall be very brief because I understand the time is limited.

Acting Chairman:  Deputy McQuillan has to get in in ten minutes.

Mr. Collins: Information on James J. Collins  Zoom on James J. Collins  The suspension of the Local Authorities (Works) Act has been a bone of contention with councils all over the Twenty-Six Counties, and at every meeting of the General Council of County Councils some Council had a motion down to discuss it. The last speaker mentioned all the good work done under it, and referred in particular to one great scheme that cost £1,000. Considering that while it was in operation £7,500,000 was spent, there should have been many good works undertaken.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: Information on Michael Pat Murphy  Zoom on Michael Pat Murphy  And so there were.

Mr. Collins: Information on James J. Collins  Zoom on James J. Collins  Even yesterday I spoke on this matter at a meeting of the General Council. I had always been in favour of the operation of this Act but I have satisfied myself that the Act had many defects in it. Like the curate's egg, it was good and bad in spots.

I have one particular case in mind, a scheme on which £8,000 was spent in each of three successive years and, after £24,000 had been spent, the next mountain flood that came down destroyed all the work done. The great fault that we found with the Act in Limerick was that there was no provision in it for maintenance of the work once it was done. Is there any Deputy in this House, no matter to what Party he belongs, who stands over the expenditure [1470] of £24,000 on work that was soon destroyed?

Mr. McQuillan: Information on John McQuillan  Zoom on John McQuillan  Was there an inquiry into that? That is a very serious charge for the Deputy to make.

Mr. Collins: Information on James J. Collins  Zoom on James J. Collins  I am prepared to stand over it and prove it.

Mr. McQuillan: Information on John McQuillan  Zoom on John McQuillan  The county council in the Deputy's county should be charged so.

Mr. Collins: Information on James J. Collins  Zoom on James J. Collins  I always felt that we all jumped at the Act when it was introduced to try to get something out of it, but I believe the main purpose of that Act was to relieve flooding of public roads and it was never intended to be applied, in any shape or form, to land drainage. Its primary and principal purpose was to relieve flooding of roads and, therefore, the point made by Deputy Wycherley regarding the losses sustained when it was not in operation is not material. I welcome the scheme announced by the Minister with regard to arterial drainage. When it is operated, not only can we relieve public roads from flooding but we can tackle the problem of land drainage also, a problem which was never tackled in County Limerick because we had not the machinery to do that work. The amendment of the Act and the transferring of operations under it to the Board of Works is a step in the right direction.

Deputy McQuillan asked if it would deal only with rivers flowing directly to the sea. In my own area we have two main rivers running through the county, from north to south, to the Shannon, and in the first year of the Act's operation we had £70,000 paid to Limerick County Council for work on the upper reaches of the river Deale on the borders of north Cork. The result was that the upper reaches were cleaned but, where the river joins the Shannon, every farm was flooded for miles round when the first floods came down. When that cleaning was done the proper machinery was not available. That machinery can be provided only by the Board of Works. Added to that, work should have commenced at the mouth of the river. The way it [1471] was done was equivalent to building a house by putting the roof on first, instead of laying the foundations. That is how we feel about all this in County Limerick.

Mr. M.P. Murphy: Information on Michael Pat Murphy  Zoom on Michael Pat Murphy  Then how did the Deputy associate himself with the resolution of the General Council of County Councils and with resolutions passed at previous meetings?

Mr. Collins: Information on James J. Collins  Zoom on James J. Collins  Not only at yesterday's meeting but at all previous meetings I have supported any resolution for the re-introduction of the Local Authorities (Works) Act, but in an amended form. I specially emphasised the fact that if the Act is to be of any benefit to the people and the nation as a whole, provision will have to be made for maintenance. That is the kernel of my argument every time. That is what governs my support. I have always spoken in favour and I would he happy to see the Act in force once more, but I should like to see the scheme carried out by the Board of Works. The county councils have not the proper machinery.

We have been told now that in future these schemes will be done by the Board of Works. They have the skilled personnel and the machinery. They can do these schemes independently of the Arterial Drainage Scheme. From their surveys they know the rivers in the hinterlands which should be drained. They can make their selection and, in making that selection, they will do a great deal to improve drainage over a very wide area.

Mr. N. Egan: Information on Nicholas Egan  Zoom on Nicholas Egan  Independently of the county councils?

Mr. Collins: Information on James J. Collins  Zoom on James J. Collins  Independently of the county councils. I have heard many councillors criticise both the Government and the Local Authorities (Works) Act. When it was suggested that we should strike a rate of 4d., 5d. or 6d. in the £, to maintain the schemes that were carried out, the greatest critics of the Government because of the suspension of the Act were the very people who refused to strike even one half-penny for maintenance.

[1472]Mr. Wycherley: Information on Florence Wycherley  Zoom on Florence Wycherley  When is the new scheme to start?

Mr. Collins: Information on James J. Collins  Zoom on James J. Collins  There are just two points, as I have said, on which I want to be clear. First, I welcome the change because in future there will be maintenance provision. Secondly, I welcome the scheme because it will be operated henceforth by the Board of Works, and the Board of Works have the machinery and the skilled personnel.

Mr. Corish: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  It is merely special pleading on the part of Fianna Fáil Deputies who have spoken for and against this particular motion. The Local Authorities (Works) Act was the most popular and useful scheme ever introduced here. It has been supported by all local authorities and by practically every Deputy in the Fianna Fáil Party. It has been supported very strongly by the Fianna Fáil organ. As well as that the Minister for Local Government tells us that he was pleased, and he now has responsibility for the expenditure of public money, that he got every single penny he could get for Donegal and used it.

Acting Chairman (Mr. Cunningham): Information on Liam Cunningham  Zoom on Liam Cunningham  Is Deputy McQuillan giving some extra time?

Mr. McQuillan: Information on John McQuillan  Zoom on John McQuillan  Yes.

Mr. Corish: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  There has been emphasis on maintenance. Most of the Fianna Fáil Deputies who said the scheme should have been continued have also stated they would have supported it, but there was no provision for maintenance. That is all tommy-rot. It is tommy-rot to the extent that the Government gives money to private individuals and local authorities for the erection of houses. Will any Deputy tell me what Government has been concerned about the maintenance of those houses? Does the Minister for Local Government insist that cottages must be kept in decent repair by county councils? Does he care? I do not say that is something peculiar to this particular Minister.

[1473] Deputy Wycherley also spoke about waste of money. Would he tell the House how much was wasted on land reclamation over the last few years? Would he tell the House if the Government have been concerned about maintenance of land reclaimed or drained under the Land Reclamation Scheme? The scheme we are discussing here gave employment to about 9,000 rural workers per year. Many people, like Deputy Wycherley, believed that, because these fellows were down in a river with shovels and sprongs, they were wasting the ratepayers' and the taxpayers' money. The late Deputy T.J. Murphy who introduced the Act made no bones about it; he said it was to serve two purposes, and those two purposes were the draining of rivers, the alleviation of floods on land and roads, and the provision of employment. The last objective is being conveniently forgotten.

The Minister said the Act was not all it should have been. Deputies MacEntee, Burke and Moran were then in a position to put down thousands of amendments to that Act. I happened to be in charge of the Bill on the Committee Stage. I accepted any of the amendments I thought useful, so much so that, when the Fifth Stage was reached, the then Deputy MacEntee boasted: “Now we have made this into a proper Bill.” He meant he had provided against the different disadvantages Deputy Collins and others said would accrue when the Bill was ultimately put into operation.

The Minister said here that local engineers are not equipped to do this type of work. They are very well equipped. They are general engineers. They are housing, road and drainage engineers. I wonder if we had acceded to their request between the years 1948 and 1951 that they would get fees for doing this work, would there have been the abuses about which Deputy Collins talks now? I have no hesitation in asking that question. They pressed strongly for fees and, in pressing for them, they accepted responsibility for doing the work. They would have done the work if they had got the fees and would have been well equipped evidently to do the work.

[1474] It is, again, special pleading on the part of the Minister to say these local engineers are not equipped to do the work. Who will now do the work heretofore done under the Local Authorities (Works) Act? We have a river down in Wexford which has flooded every year in the last three years. That position could have been relieved under the L.A.W.A. The Dodder could have been done. Deputies have been talking about flooding, talking about the Dodder and the floods in Stillorgan over the last few years. The Minister for Finance, his Parliamentary Secretary, the Minister for Local Government and the Minister for Agriculture all say they have no responsibility. Moneys under the L.A.W.A. could have been utilised to do the work necessary in these areas.

The mover of the motion is perfectly right in asking that this sort of money should be restored. The Minister has been pushed some distance and the thanks of the House are due to Deputy McQuillan for putting down this motion. The Minister comes in and at the tailend of his speech he announces some airy-fairy scheme which will be undertaken by the Board of Works. I may be misjudging him. He may not have had enough time to explain, but I hope it will not be like the airy-fairy promises given so lavishly by members of this Government over the last two or three years. In view of what the Minister said we hope this scheme will materialise, and materialise quickly.

Mr. Blaney: Information on Neil T.C. Blaney  Zoom on Neil T.C. Blaney  It was announced a long time ago. It was announced on my Estimate. I said then it was under consideration.

Mr. McQuillan: Information on John McQuillan  Zoom on John McQuillan  Eight months ago, in introducing his Estimate, the Minister pointed out that his Department had decided to try to bridge the gap existing as between major arterial drainage work and work to be done under the Land Project, and said that his Department had referred to the Board of Works the question of preparing schemes for the drainage of rivers flowing directly into the sea.

He comes here now, eight months afterwards, and he is even more, shall [1475] we say, hazy about this scheme than he was at that time. There can be no denial of the fact that if this minor type of drainage work is given to the Board of Works, it is the end of it so far as rural Ireland is concerned. Deputies have criticised the Board of Works for a number of years for lack of progress. Surely the Board of Works have sufficient work to do in dealing with major arterial drainage without saddling them with extra work at the present time. If it were possible to sabotage drainage, then this Minister has succeeded in doing so by suggesting that he intends to push the responsibility on to the Board of Works. I do not like to be personal but I must confess to a strong suspicion that Donegal is one of the counties that will gain priority due to the fact that all the rivers in that county flow directly to the sea.

Mr. Blaney: Information on Neil T.C. Blaney  Zoom on Neil T.C. Blaney  There is no other place to which they can flow.

Mr. McQuillan: Information on John McQuillan  Zoom on John McQuillan  The Minister has suggested that when the Local Authorities (Works) Act was in operation, even though he felt work might not be of the highest quality, he was prepared to grab every pound in order to bolster himself up as chairman, or a member, of the Donegal County Council. His words in his speech today were that he never took any steps to sabotage the scheme while he was Chairman of the Donegal County Council, but he did since he assumed responsibility as Minister and he will be charged with that on the hustings —whenever that will be—and will have to answer to the public and to his own supporters.

Every Deputy who has spoken, whether a Fianna Fáil Deputy or a Deputy from the opposite side, every county council in Ireland and the General Council of County Councils, have, time and again, requested the Minister to restore the grants under this Act. Yet the Minister tells us that a county council is an irresponsible body and he is joined in that by the Fianna Fáil back benchers who suggest that the local authorities are no longer capable of carrying out drainage [1476] themselves. It is suggested that the engineers, the county surveyors and the assistant county surveyors, are incompetent to carry out this work. The Minister has suggested that they are overworked and that they would not have a chance to do this work.

We know the housing situation has eased all over rural Ireland and we know that the main roads do not need the same treatment so far as building or maintenance are concerned so that the engineers now have plenty of time to prepare schemes under the Local Authorities (Works) Act. The argument of the Minister that the engineers are incapable of doing the work is a very serious charge against the efficiency, the competency and the responsibility of the local authority engineers. Deputy Collins said that some £24,000 was wasted on a river in Limerick. If that is true, then his county council must carry responsibility for it.

Mr. O'Sullivan: Information on Denis O'Sullivan  Zoom on Denis O'Sullivan  He is the chairman.

Mr. McQuillan: Information on John McQuillan  Zoom on John McQuillan  If any county council in Ireland starts drainage work at the source of a river rather than its outlet, that county council is not fit to have responsibility. If Deputy Collins is chairman, it is time he was put into the river and carried away with the flood.

Mr. Collins: Information on James J. Collins  Zoom on James J. Collins  I am a pretty good swimmer.

Mr. McQuillan: Information on John McQuillan  Zoom on John McQuillan  In a motion which affects the entire country, it should not be the usual thing for a Deputy to refer specifically to his own constituency but in this debate I must point out the serious position which exists in my own county. On one side we have the River Shannon flowing the full length of the county and on the other side, we have the River Suck. When these rivers are in full spate, they flow right across our narrow county. There is very little hope of main drainage work being carried out in the near future on either of these two rivers. There are four rivers in the county which could come under minor drainage schemes and if those four rivers were drained, it would be [1477] of immense benefit to the north and south of the county.

One of the rivers I refer to is the Crannagh, near Athlone. Roscommon County Council have expended money under the Local Authorities (Works) Act for the past four or five years. The Minister and his Department must confess that excellent work has been done. There is no question of wastage and no charge of wastage has been levelled against Roscommon County Council. That county council wish to finish the work and relieve flooding on the lands of small farmers on the upper reaches of that river but they have been turned down, and the Minister has even refused to receive a deputation no fewer than a dozen times in the past 18 months. The people whose land is flooded by those rivers recognise the need for getting their lands drained. I wonder what it means to the people in Dublin and to the people in the Civil Service who seem to control this Minister——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Cormac Breslin  Zoom on Cormac Breslin  The Minister is responsible for the Department, not the officials.

Mr. McQuillan: Information on John McQuillan  Zoom on John McQuillan  I accept that he is responsible and also that he is subject to influence. He is speaking with a different voice now when he is Minister from when he was nearer to the people in Donegal.

Mr. Blaney: Information on Neil T.C. Blaney  Zoom on Neil T.C. Blaney  I am consistent.

Mr. McQuillan: Information on John McQuillan  Zoom on John McQuillan  The people concerned with the Crannagh river have no hope of finishing the drainage work. They are small farmers who go in in a big way for tillage and mixed farming. Some of them have not seen a particular acre of their land for years because, during winter and summer, it is flooded. They wear Wellingtons the whole year round. Deputies may not [1478] credit that, but I should like them to come and visit the locality and see for themselves. The situation there is so bad that the farmers joined together to form an association and at present they are refusing to pay rent or rates. The situation is that a seizure was made last week on a number of these farms. There was no question of seizing stock off the lands because they were flooded but an agent of the Government went into these houses and seized furniture. In some instances, they went to the houses when the owners were away and the womenfolk were left on their own. That is what is happening in that part of the country and it is due to the refusal of the Minister to make money available in order that essential drainage work can be carried out.

The statement of the Taoiseach and the Minister that they are anxious to have increased production from the land is sheer hypocrisy in the face of their complete contempt for the farming community in that they know perfectly well that unless the land is fitted for production, through drainage, increased production cannot be got. We can only accept regretfully that all the promises of the Taoiseach that he is now giving priority to rural Ireland are merely promises made to be broken. I hope that Deputies Corry, Collins and other Deputies in the Fianna Fáil Party who have expressed themselves outside this House in favour of restoring the Local Authorities (Works) Act will, on this occasion, walk into the Division Lobbies and support here a motion to restore these grants. I think the Minister, even at this stage, should allow the Whips to be taken off and let us and himself see how many of his own Deputies are only too anxious to support the motion.

Question put.

Barrett, Stephen D.
Barry, Richard.
Beirne, John.
Blowick, Joseph.
Browne, Noel C.
Burke, James.
Carroll, James. [1479]Desmond, Daniel.
Dillon, James M.
Dockrell, Maurice E.
Esmonde, Sir Anthony C.
Fagan, Charles.
Giles, Patrick.
Hogan, Bridget.
Jones, Denis F.
Kenny, Henry.
Kyne, Thomas A.
Larkin, Denis.
Lindsay, Patrick.
Lynch, Thaddeus.
MacEoin, Seán.
McGilligan, Patrick.
McMenamin, Daniel.
McQuillan, John.
Manley, Timothy.
Casey, Seán.
Coburn, George.
Coogan, Fintan.
Corish, Brendan.
Cosgrave, Liam.
Costello, Declan D.
Crotty, Patrick J. [1480]Mulcahy, Richard.
Murphy, Michael P.
Murphy, William.
Norton, William.
O'Donnell, Patrick.
O'Higgins, Michael J.
O'Reilly, Patrick.
O'Sullivan, Denis J.
Palmer, Patrick W.
Reynolds, Mary.
Rogers, Patrick J.
Rooney, Eamonn.
Ryan, Richie.
Sherwin, Frank.
Sweetman, Gerard.
Tierney, Patrick.
Wycherley, Florence.

Aiken, Frank.
Bartley, Gerald.
Blaney, Neil T.
Boland, Gerald.
Boland, Kevin.
Booth, Lionel.
Brady, Philip A.
Brady, Seán.
Breen, Dan.
Brennan, Joseph.
Brennan, Paudge.
Briscoe, Robert.
Browne, Seán.
Burke, Patrick.
Calleary, Phelim A.
Carty, Michael.
Childers, Erskine.
Clohessy, Patrick.
Collins, James J.
Cotter, Edward.
Crowley, Honor M.
Cunningham, Liam.
Davern, Mick.
de Valera, Vivion.
Doherty, Seán.
Donegan, Batt.
Dooley, Patrick.
Egan, Kieran P.
Egan, Nicholas.
Fanning, John.
Faulkner, Padraig.
Flynn, Stephen.
Galvin, John.
Geoghegan, John.
Gibbons, James.
Gilbride, Eugene.
Gogan, Richard P.
Healy, Augustine A.
Hillery, Patrick J.
Hilliard, Michael.
Humphreys, Francis.
Johnston, Henry M.
Kenneally, William.
Kennedy, Michael J.
Kitt, Michael F.
Lemass, Noel T.
Lemass, Seán.
Loughman, Frank.
Lynch, Celia.
Lynch, Jack.
MacCarthy, Seán.
McEllistrim, Thomas.
MacEntee, Seán.
Maher, Peadar.
Medlar, Martin.
Millar, Anthony G.
Moher, John W.
Moloney, Daniel J.
ÓO'Briain, Donnchadh.
O'Ceallaigh, Seán.
O'Malley, Donogh.
Ormonde, John.
O'Toole, James.
Ryan, James.
Ryan, Mary B.
Sheldon, William A.W.
Smith, Patrick.

Question declared lost.


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