Committee on Finance. - Vote 45—Transport and Power (Resumed).

Wednesday, 12 December 1962

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 198 No. 8

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Debate resumed on the following motion:

“That the Estimate be referred back for reconsideration.”—(Deputy D. Costello.)

Mr. Collins:  When I moved to report progress, I was in the happier vein of going through certain areas of the constituency I represent, and with conscious pride asserting what they had been able to do for themselves to develop tourism in their areas, and using it as a basic premise for an argument that might bring the Minister and his policy direction down to reality and away from the high-flown notions of international chicanery in plush hotels. But I had made reference earlier to Irish Shipping, and I feel that it would be unfair not to sketch out for the Minister a programme that might be infinitely more fruitful and beneficial to the nation for Irish Shipping. I do not know who is responsible, but I charge the Minister, in his nomenclature of Minister for Transport and Power, as being the person responsible for the internationally misconceived idea of 10,000 ton or 15,000 ton boats for Irish Shipping. I would again ask him to come down out of that vapourising airy-fairy economic statistical imagination of his and consider what are the real needs in relation to Irish Shipping.

It appeals me to think that we can take this view of tremendously big leviathans to traverse the seas when we have not under our control an adequate coaster fleet to deal with the problem of the transfer of our goods to our nearest market. I was appalled at what I consider to be the gross dishonesty of the Minister in suggesting that he had heard only one complaint [1249] in two years about the traffic of Irish people coming back home on holidays from Holyhead to Dún Laoghaire.

Acting Chairman (Mr. MacCarthy): Information on Seán McCarthy  Zoom on Seán McCarthy  The Deputy can hardly use this expression “gross dishonesty” towards the Minister.

Mr. S. Collins: Information on Seán Collins  Zoom on Seán Collins  I am perfectly entitled to use it. It is not an unParliamentary expression.

Acting Chairman:  I feel that it is.

Mr. S. Collins: Information on Seán Collins  Zoom on Seán Collins  I am afraid that I have to challenge your ruling. If necessary, send for the Ceann Comhairle to prove that I am right.

Acting Chairman:  My rulings must be accepted.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  On a point of order——

Mr. S. Collins: Information on Seán Collins  Zoom on Seán Collins  There has been difficulty and there has been trouble and inconvenience——

Acting Chairman:  I must ask the Deputy to give way.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  I object to the statement “gross dishonesty”. In my statement, I said that I was referring to the Dublin-Liverpool service and have had only one complaint.

General MacEoin: Information on General Seán MacEoin  Zoom on General Seán MacEoin  That is not a point of order.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  The Deputy was referring to all branches of cross-Channel service.

Acting Chairman:  It is a point of explanation or correction anyway.

Mr. S. Collins: Information on Seán Collins  Zoom on Seán Collins  It is untrue.

Acting Chairman:  I hope the Deputy is not going to maintain that attitude and that he will obey the rules of order.

Mr. S. Collins: Information on Seán Collins  Zoom on Seán Collins  The Deputy knows the rules of order very well. He practises in a profession which has taught him to keep those rules of order. I am going to say that unless the doctrine of “there are none so blind as those that will not see; there are none so deaf as those that cannot hear” applies to the Minister, he must be [1250] aware that there is considerable trouble at times in the passenger traffic between Liverpool and Dublin and between Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire and that the Minister could, if it was not interfering with some of his friends, insist at times that these people provide an extra boat or in the alternative allow Irish Shipping if necessary to charter a passenger boat to bolster up the trade at its peak periods.

There is one thing that the Minister has control over, and I would commend to him for consideration in relation to Irish Shipping—that we build a coaster fleet and that we might extend that fleet to take the tremendous strain off the roads. The Minister should direct the activities of Irish Shipping into the coastal service of tankers to distribute some of the petroleum products that go down the country in those monster lorries, and, indeed, take to the canals. There was consideration given in the Department of Industry and Commerce, before it was divided into this queer partition of Industry and Commerce and Transport and Power, to the possible use of the canals for the distribution by barges of considerable amounts of oil products that are going through the country.

Rather than let those places go derelict, surely the Minister should consider the feasibility of converting the canals into some useful type of waterway, and the possibility of distributing those various oil and petroleum products in bigger quantity by tanker barges on the canals. Irish Shipping could fruitfully engage in the distribution among our provincial ports of those products. It would certainly enter into a very fruitful market if it got the 2,000 ton to 4,000 ton type of ship that would be effective in our coastal trade and our export trade to Britain.

We are told that we are facing the possibility of entry into the Common Market. The Minister will have to wake up to the fact that one of the big impacts in competition is the transport costs we have in getting our goods delivered to market. Every saving that can be made in that line is going to play a very effective part in the building up of our competitive strength in [1251] such a Common Market. There is nobody in the world who has a titter of wit or uses an ounce of common sense but realises that, in the future, Irish Shipping will have to be contained within the practical type of work we expect the company to do. I commend to the Minister an immediate reappraisal of the policy in relation to the size of the ships to build, because I am told—and I am sure the Minister if he is aware of it will let us know in his reply—that the situation of Irish Shipping this year is bordering on catastrophic, and that the portents of a bad year this year have been only too sadly fulfilled.

As I said before, Irish Shipping did a very useful job at a vital stage of our existence, but in the light of what one might call the Common Market era, we must examine where its future lies.

I can see on a cursory examination of another company under the Minister's control, Bord na Móna, that there is a fluctuation from year to year between profit and loss, but one will not in any way condemn that company because it has tremendous value in the experimentation and in the research it has carried out and the employment it has given in the area. It cannot be equated with the fantastic figures of loss shown by some of the other companies and, anyway, the ultimate aim of bog development as a consequence of its work is well worth considering as a potential earner in the nation's economy.

Before I get away from my present trend I want to revert to what I can best describe as the most neglected and unfortunate section of the community that I know—the group of some 2,000 CIE pensioners who are on destitution pension level. The Minister is aware of the figure. There are some 1,500 odd on the 12/- level and another 400 odd under 22/-, making in all an excess of 2,000 people who have to live, subject to what they can get in social welfare benefits, on that pittance. Mind you, I want to strike this note very deliberately. They represent the people who made CIE pay and who accepted low wages and long hours. Now they [1252] are abandoned on the scrap heap. Surely to heavens, when we talk in airy-fairy language of these big State companies and their operation surpluses, we could readily think how money could be diverted into the channel of ameliorating these people's lot. They are not even accorded the facility by CIE of travelling in their vehicles free to collect these pittances. Often it is costing them the princely sum of one shilling of their 12 to get in and out to collect their miserable pittance.

This has been a very protracted debate because the time has come to pull down the five or seven veils from some of the grandiose schemes of a Government who seem to think it is a seat of empire rather than the controlling entity in a small hard-pressed country that needs very many substantial technical improvements to develop both its industry and its agriculture, and which needs above all a proper appraisal of the extent to which these large State companies will operate within the framework of this nation's future.

I get appalled when I find the Government—as they have done—enshrouding with successive mysticisms the whole of Irish endeavour and of Irish political effort in the past 15 months, enshrouding them in the Common Market veil. This is the Valhalla in which we bury all our mistakes and forget all our broken promises and the forlorn record of dismal failure. On this particular Estimate I feel pretty strongly because I think the Minister, if he bestirred himself, need not be so inept and ineffectual as he sounds in this House at times with his lack of function. I do not believe the Minister is so blind or so foolish as not to be aware of the particulars of some of the policies designed and carried out by State companies under his control. I do not believe he could not, if he wanted to, arrest this drift and get policy back on a factual beam.

I think we are all unanimous on one thing. We would like to see these enterprises survive. We would like to see them justifying the faith and the investment placed in them. I do not [1253] think any of us, however, are prepared to subscribe to the continuation of unwarranted subsidies to encourage increasing loss. We face a very vital problem in improving the efficiency of our transport system, whether it be road, rail or sea, so that we will be able to deliver for Irish exporters, to whatever market they must go, their goods in the best possible condition in the quickest possible time. It is to that type of trade that our rail and our road freight systems should be geared. It is to that purpose that our shipping should be geared also. The Minister knows as well as I do, and as well as anybody in this House, that it would be more than adequate for us to have a good type of coaster vessel not in excess of 5,000 tons to do our continental trade. If we can fill them often enough Irish Shipping would be doing very well and the Irish economy would be doing better. Turbines of ships this size plying the seas with cargo would give a sweeter tone than those of large leviathanlike ships lying up silent in some yard waiting for either charter or cargo.

It is time this type of investigation took place. It is time for hard hitting. I must confess that the Minister has got a fair share of that and, no doubt when the opportunity comes for him to reply, he will try to spar back. There is no getting away from the basic fact that, for some queer reason, bureaucracy has gone mad in these State companies and we have more braid and gold in and around the offices of some of these companies than you would find in five armies. Huge administrative machines are being built up, in many cases recklessly and wantonly. It is time somebody got down to analysing how many of these people are wanted, how many are only in sinecures, how real and how necessary is each of these entrepreneurs, whether he is called service manager, area manager, freight manager or anything else, how many of these innumerable braided executives are really necessary, how much could really be saved in these companies by some man doing a full time job of work, instead of creating an aura of mystery about his job and getting three or four assistants.

[1254] I am positively nauseated by the capacity for job-making in some of these companies. I am not even prepared to admit that there is any honesty of purpose behind much of it but I am prepared to say that the ordinary Irishman—the man about whom the Minister would not know too much—is getting sick and tired of carrying the burden of subsidisation. The time has come, as I said before, growing pains having ended, when some effort should be made to direct policy and confine activity to a sphere in which they are competent. We have got to get this notion of internationalism out of our heads. We have Boeing jets flying the Atlantic; we have immense cargo ships not only plying the Atlantic but—some of them—on charter in the Pacific; we have them plying up the St. Lawrence River but we have none of them plying between here and England with our cattle. We have not got the kind of basic fleet which would carry the exports we have. No, we will seek the glories elsewhere and sacrifice our people in the effort rather than get down to practicalities and give the country an assurance that there will be reason and rationalism in future policy.

No matter how the Minister tries to wriggle out of it, he has the title of Minister for Transport and Power and if it is a nebulous ministry, or if it is a ministry without portfolio, the Minister should tell us. The Minister, for his own good and for the good of his Party, and because of his duty to this House, should take off his coat and do something and stop hiding behind this mythical wall of “no function”. If he does not, he can rest assured that his tenure of office as Minister for Transport and Power will be interlaced with questions, Adjournment Debates and a constantly raised whip by the Opposition to make him do the job he is meant to do.

Mr. Gilhawley: Information on Eugene Gilhawley  Zoom on Eugene Gilhawley  First of all, I should like to refer to the closing of the Sligo-Leitrim railway and the effect it has had on the people and the economy of the county. Perhaps it may be a warning and a help in regard to what will happen in the future. The Sligo-Leitrim [1255] railway was abandoned a couple of years ago. As far as I know, it was subsidised for about six months and then the families who had been making a living from that railway were paid off, given a gratuity, and they had to rehabilitate themselves and go anywhere they liked and do whatever they liked.

That was one aspect of it but the main aspect of the folly of abandoning that railway at the time was that nobody made allowance for the condition of the roads then. The roads in County Sligo, I can state categorically, were barely able to carry the transport at the time the railway was abandoned and then an extra volume of traffic was thrown on to those roads. The result of that can now be seen and it will be seen for the next year or two. I admit we are getting quite a good grant to help us to build up the roads in place of the railway but the cart had been put before the horse in this case. Now we have bridges being repaired, roads being closed and traffic being diverted and the surface of the roads used for the diversions being ploughed up by heavy traffic. We have traffic jams, cars and lorries going into ditches, and so on. I think the Minister will agree with me that it would have been wiser to subsidise the Sligo-Leitrim railway and to ensure that the roads were capable of carrying the extra volume and weight of traffic before it was abandoned.

I never like to criticise any ministry but I think this was bad policy and it might help in other cases where railways are being abandoned to ensure that roads are in a proper condition first and that a proper estimate is made of the volume of traffic being carried by the railway and which is being thrown on to the roads. As I say, it was a mistake to abandon the Sligo-Leitrim railway when it was abandoned. If the roads had been built up first, and even if the line had to be subsidised, it would have been better in the long run for the community as a whole.

I must also refer to a statement made by a Deputy on the Government [1256] benches who comes from my constituency. I regret he is not in the House, he was here when I tried to get in before. In volume 198 of the Official Report No. 3, for November 29th last, he stated that he knew a man who was waiting for six months to get into a job in CIE. After six months waiting—presumably he had nothing to do in the meantime—he got in and presumably the same Deputy was responsible for getting him in. He said he stuck the job for three weeks and then told Deputy Gallagher that he left it because if he stayed any longer he would become demoralised, because during that period of three weeks he did nothing except drink tea and play cards in sheds.

Mr. Corish: Information on Brendan Corish  Zoom on Brendan Corish  He should have had a helper.

(Interruptions.)

Mr. Gilhawley: Information on Eugene Gilhawley  Zoom on Eugene Gilhawley  The point I want to make here is that in so far as my constituency is concerned, that is Sligo and North Leitrim, I know the personnel in Sligo, in Ballisodare, Coolaney, Ballymote, Collooney, Tubbercurry and Manorhamilton and I have never found anything like that, I am very glad to say. While I do not want to be taken as agreeing with the policy as dictated by the Minister to CIE, I would certainly wish to repudiate emphatically the statement made by Deputy Gallagher. So far as my constituency is concerned, I have found nothing but courtesy, efficiency and absolutely everything that could be required. I have never found anything like that wrong with CIE in my county. I want to make that very very clear. If, by inference, Deputy Gallagher meant to bring the Sligo-Leitrim constituency into it, I want categorically to repudiate it and say that no such thing ever happened to my knowledge in that constituency.

It was the same Deputy who made another rather erratic statement in respect of transport when he said that you would hardly see a bicycle outside a chapel gate in the West, that the people are so well off they all have their motor cars. It is a pity he does [1257] not live in the area and he might know the position. It is very difficult for me, or any other Deputy from my constituency, to come in here and try to put up a case for our constituency when we find such foolish and irresponsible statements being made. I shall finish on that subject by saying that a little learning is a dangerous thing.

I should like to refer briefly to hotels. I quite agree with many of the statements made concerning the amount of money being spent on grandiose hotels. It appears to me that that money is being expended for tourists here. That is desirable and I have no quibble with it. In my constituency, we have probably one of the most scenic areas in Ireland and we have seaside places all along the western coast from Mullaghmore to Rosses Point, Strandhill, Enniscrone and Easky. In those seaside places, we have none of these £50,000 hotels, but we have small family hotels, boarding houses, and also public houses, which do quite a lot of catering and quite a lot of good for tourists. Some system of grants should be devised for those family hotels, boarding houses, and even the public houses.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  The grants apply to all registered hotels.

Mr. Gilhawley: Information on Eugene Gilhawley  Zoom on Eugene Gilhawley  I am not speaking about registered hotels.

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Sorry.

Mr. Gilhawley: Information on Eugene Gilhawley  Zoom on Eugene Gilhawley  I am speaking about the family hotels, the boarding houses and the public houses, which cater for tourists, and I can assure the Minister that they are run by the majority of the people in whom I am interested. There is no big town on the coast except Sligo town, which has first-class hotels which we all know about. They are all right. I am trying to deal with the little seaside places which entice tourists to visit them from all over the country and from Scotland. Scots visitors come very often to my constituency.

I am also speaking about the effort we should make to facilitate that type of visitor and not the wealthy visitor, the working-type visitors from the [1258] Lancashire mills, who come to our resorts with a certain amount of money to spend, and who like comfortable accommodation at reasonable cost. They are the people I am talking about. If some kind of grant could be devised by Bord Fáilte, or any other body, to help those people to do up their premises, it would certainly help tourism, or else, as I heard someone say before, if interest-free loans were given to them, it would be a tremendous benefit. Candidly, I think that too much provision is being made for the £50,000 hotel and the smaller hotel, the family hotel, the boarding house and the public house on the seacoast is being neglected.

I should like to go back again to CIE briefly and to mention merchandise haulage. In my county, there has been a difficulty which was very noticeable in recent years in relation to merchandise haulage. Quite a number of young people who went to the expense of purchasing trucks, building up a business of their own and going into the cattle business, suddenly found that they had become subject to the law relating to haulage. They were put off the road. They were summoned because they carried a neighbour's animal. Some people were put to the expense of going into court to prove that it was their own cattle they carried and that if it was a neighbour's animal that was carried, they did not receive any reward for carrying. Something should be done about that. I know quite a number of young farmers who built up a business and were put completely out of it and had to emigrate.

I should like to refer briefly to rural electrification. There is one thing which I have come across which I think really is an injustice. When rural electrification was carried out in a particular section, from among six or seven people, two decided to take it— I have in mind a particular case—and they got it at an excess service charge. Their neighbours are now getting it at no extra service charge. It is a small point but I should like the Minister to cover it.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  The Deputy should write a postcard to the engineer.

[1259]Mr. T. Lynch: Information on Thaddeus Lynch  Zoom on Thaddeus Lynch  I think the Parliamentary Secretary should let the Minister deal with the matter.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  It is a simple silly little question.

Mr. T. Lynch: Information on Thaddeus Lynch  Zoom on Thaddeus Lynch  There is nothing silly about it at all. The Parliamentary Secretary told me to write a card about Dunmore Pier because he was not doing his business.

Mr. J. Brennan: Information on Joseph Brennan  Zoom on Joseph Brennan  I went down there a few times.

Mr. T. Lynch: Information on Thaddeus Lynch  Zoom on Thaddeus Lynch  The Parliamentary Secretary did not go down there since.

Mr. Gilhawley: Information on Eugene Gilhawley  Zoom on Eugene Gilhawley  I have gone into this at local level. The neighbours who did not agree to take the electricity originally are getting it now at no extra service charge. What is to happen to these other people? Is that a permanent liability on them?

Mr. Childers: Information on Erskine Hamilton Childers  Zoom on Erskine Hamilton Childers  It is quite possible that will be reduced.

Mr. Gilhawley: Information on Eugene Gilhawley  Zoom on Eugene Gilhawley  I am delighted to hear that. I think it is an exceptional case. There are quite a number of out of the way places in my constituency and I submit that the ESB should not lean too heavily on the people in those places in respect of charges. It is not equitable at all. Living in out of the way places, these people have had a rather tough existence over the years and because they were just pushed into the out of the way places during the time of Cromwell, we still regard them as outsiders. That is the way they feel about it. I should like the Minister to give some consideration to them.

The last point I should like to make is in relation to airports. We have heard quite a lot about them, the amount of money spent on them and the losses and so forth which have been sustained. I would like the Minister to consider the importance of having an air strip at Sligo. We have the facilities there. The Sligo Chamber of Commerce is a very responsible body and there is development of industry in Sligo town, due to the efforts of that active body. I can foresee the day when rapid transport will mean a lot.

[1260] I was the first to mention this matter in the House. It has been mentioned since. Every facility and every help should be given towards the establishment of an airstrip in the vicinity of Sligo town. There is no need for me to elaborate upon the geographical position and the necessity for such an air strip.

Mr. Reynolds: Information on Patrick J. Reynolds  Zoom on Patrick J. Reynolds  If we examine the make-up of CIE, there is only one conclusion we can come to: When they got the monopoly of the transport of this country, it was the greatest disaster that ever happened. When I say that I would not want anybody to misinterpret me. The employees of CIE at that time took full advantage of the monopoly. When I refer to employees, I do not mean the lorry driver, his helper the local station-master or anybody in that category. I mean the official of CIE who drove around this country in a high powered car. He adopted the attitude at that time that they had the monopoly and that it was our job as business people or whatever category we happened to be in to give them our transport.

I want to point out to the Minister where that completely failed. During that period, I approached CIE on numerous occasions and asked for quotations for the transport of certain reasonably large quantities of goods. I remember the officials handing me a blue book and reading out the charges from one station to another. They told me: “Those are our charges. If you do not accept them, we are not prepared to transport your goods at any other price and we are not prepared to bargain with you.”

Inside the past few years, their tune has changed slightly. They are now prepared to bargain with every businessman and to carry goods at a cheaper rate than that at which he can transport them himself, but before that position came about, all the people with reasonably heavy goods to transport were compelled, because of the monopoly of CIE, to go into the lorry business. Speaking as a businessman with some slight experience, I now find I have a number of lorries on my hands. If at that time, CIE had been [1261] prepared to bargain with them, there would have been few businessmen who would have owned lorries. They have enough to do today without being involved in the lorry business. However, CIE compelled us to go into that business and now they are doing their damnedest to put us out again. Even at this late stage, I am delighted to see CIE prepared to quote reasonable prices for people willing to use their transport.

There are now only three stations, Carrick-on-Shannon, Drumsna and Dromod, left in my county. About 22 miles of railway has been lifted in the northern part of the county and about 45 miles in the southern part. I honestly think it was bad form on the part of the Minister to allow CIE to lift those lines, especially in the southern part. That railway served a tremendous purpose. During the war, when there was no other means of transporting coal from Arigna to the Pigeon House and to industries throughout the country, that narrow-gauge line answered the call. In the foreseeable future—I hope it never happens—we may find ourselves without the supplies of diesel oil available to us at present. Since then, this coal has to be transported from Arigna to the Drogheda cement factory and various other places. We are asking our over-burdened roads to carry this coal. That job was reasonably well done by the railway.

Reference has been made by a number of Deputies to the closing of branch lines. I live in a town where a branch line was closed. It had a drastic effect there, as well as on Mohill and the village of Dromod. A number of people were employed in these towns. Some of them were transferred to Dublin or elsewhere, but those of them not long enough employed by CIE to have a claim for alternative employment had to emigrate. That badly affected the business communities in these towns.

There is also talk of closing the Kilfree-Ballaghaderreen line. The people of Ballaghaderreen are hoping to secure a factory for the town in a short time, and we all hope they will [1262] be fortunate enough. Before the Minister lets the axe fall, I would ask him to defer the closing of this line until we see what the effect will be on this industry.

A number of Deputies mentioned the possibility of providing grants for rural public houses in order to bring the amenities in them up to the required standard. We all know the reason why they are not up to standard. We might get an official to calculate the profit a rural publican would have on a half of whiskey or a bottle of stout. Before he makes that calculation, he must remember that the consumption of intoxicating liquor in the rural areas is very small. There is no point in saying that a rural publican has a profit of from 20 to 30 per cent on a bottle of stout, if he is unable to sell his stout or there are not sufficient people in his area to buy it. I am not encouraging people to go in and buy drink just for the sake of bettering the financial position of the publican. Because of the low income publicans have at present the Minister should consider asking Bord Fáilte to make some grant available to them or a loan free of interest for the purpose of providing adequate toilet accommodation in rural public houses.

Progress reported: Committee to sit again.


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