Wednesday, 16 December 1987
Seanad Eireann Debate
Mr. Bradford: In relation to the provisions allowing for the borrowing of money by CIE under these new regulations, I notice that all of them speak of the current exchange rates. Am I to take it that all future debts will be discharged at the exchange rate prevailing at the  time of the taking of the loans? Is that the usual provision in relation to all loans that you take the exchange rate at the time of the original borrowing?
Minister of State at the Department of Tourism and Transport (Mr. Lyons): The question raised by the Senator is: is the exchange rate taken into account at the point of borrowing. Is that the point the Senator is making?
Mr. J. Daly: I would like to get clarification from the Minister on this section: Section 21 (7) of the Act of 1950 is hereby amended by the insertion after “auction” of “or tender”. I would like to know why CIE want to dispose of their property by tender because in the early years all the property they disposed of was by auction.
There are two points I wish to make with regard to the tender. Senator Bradford mentioned already that the highest tender may not necessarily be accepted. That is OK if the board of CIE feel a tender is not high enough. They can refuse to accept it but CIE or anybody else selling by auction have the same option because they can have a reserve on whatever they are selling. If it does not reach the reserve they can withdraw it and, if necessary, have a further option of taking bids after the auction. It causes disquiet when one sells by tender because  it is a lottery. People do not know whether they are putting in too much or too little and then they are not satisfied if they find out that somebody else got the property for less than they bid.
The second point is far more serious. CIE must have millions of pounds worth of property lying useless around the country. I do not know if they are paying rates on it but it is lying useless. They could sell it and the money they would get for that property would save such a large amount that CIE would be in a better financial position. In Killarney they have property which could be sold as prime sites for housing worth up to £½ million but they will not sell it. They will never use it. It is not attached to the railway station and they will never want it.
In Castleisland a railway station is closed down that will never be opened up again. They have let part of that property — the old goods store and the stationmaster's house, which was a valuable property but was let fall into decay. It is bordering on criminal for a semi-State body responsible for the taxpayers' money to let that money lie there, not realising the assets and saving colossal interest which at the end of the day, the bottom line, the taxpayer picks up. I would like to get clarification from the Minister on those two points.
Mr. Ferris: I want to refer to the points raised by Senator Daly. First of all, I object to the fact that any railway line or the land it is on should be abandoned. As a principle, no Minister responsible for transportation should allow railway lines to be abandoned any place. If West Clare railway was still in operation, it would be worth a lot on money to CIE and to the taxpayer because it would be of tremendous advantage as a tourist attraction alone.
This section is giving CIE power to dispose of land which becomes available by abandoning railway lines. I have the same reservations that Senator Daly has about public tender. It is an unsatisfactory process of disposing of public property. Perhaps the Minister is worried  because this land is of importance to some landowners. Sometimes, as a result of previous powers or wayleaves, it divides existing property belonging to one landowner. For that reason it would probably be inappropriate that somebody could possibly go into an auction and push up the price of a piece of land dividing two fields belonging to the same man. If it was done for that purpose it could distort common justice.
The responsibility of the board is to realise the best possible value for the taxpayer. The points raised by Senator Daly are valid. If they are dealing specifically with land and adjoining landowners, perhaps that is the reason. I would be concerned about it because county councils, forestry people and others use this system and it is quite difficult to operate it in a fair manner. People are literally bidding in the dark, not knowing whether they are doing the right thing or the wrong thing, and the element of open competition is eliminated.
Mr. Lyons: Section 5 proposes that section 21 (7) of the Act of 1950 is hereby amended by the insertion after “auction” of “or tender”. We are not changing. We are giving an extra option to CIE. Under the same section of the Transport Act, 1950, the board are empowered to sell land related to abandoned railway lines by public auction or by private treaty to the adjoining landowners. That needs to be indicated for clarification.
Section 5 of the Bill would extend the option available to the board for disposing of such land by allowing also for the sale by tender following public advertisements. There are two options there already and we want to include the others. CIE have explained that the public auction option is used in cases where the property in question is considered sufficiently valid to warrant the cost and expense of such a transaction. Experience over the years has shown that parts of abandoned railway property which are not of interest to the adjoining owners but which have direct access to the public road are often not sufficiently  valuable to third parties to justify the expense of holding an auction.
It is limited. The use of the other option of private treaty is already being limited in the way we have expressed it. CIE wish to have the option to offer such property for sale by tender following public advertisement in cases where it would be to the board's advantage to try to dispose of the property in that way.
With regard to the point made by Senator Daly about CIE owning property all over the country and not realising the full value of that property, I said in introducing Second Stage, and I said in conclusion, that with the pressure on CIE and their constituent bodies, to shape up by Government direction, they are working on their problems and deserve every encouragement in expanding the use of the board's extensive resources. I emphasised that the resources of the board are not confined to the personnel, the employees and the rolling stock. Half of their resources could by what Senator Daly mentioned. CIE are being put under more pressure than they were ever before to get their financial affairs in order. I am sure if they have some valuable property like that under-utilised or unused throughout the country, they will almost be compelled — if not we will advise them — to make the best use of all their resources. That will include properties such as Senator Daly mentioned.
Mr. J. Daly: I am not satisfied with the Minister's answer. He said and it is in the Bill, by “auction” or by “tender”. I cannot see why they want a tender. They are saying they want a tender where the property is small, is not very valuable and it would be more expensive to sell it by auction. There are big auctioneers, multinational ones, small ones, and auctioneers at crossroads. You can go into the shop and buy a pig's head, or a bucket; you can insure your car; or he will auction your property. It is the auctioneer's function to advertise at his cost so there is no cost to CIE should the auction be held and nothing happens. The only condition is that the auctioneer  has the right to have that on his books for 12 months.
Senator Ferris referred to the rolling stock and spoke about the West Clare railway. He was quite right. It would be a great tourist attraction because of Percy French's famous “Are you right there Michael, are you right?”. There was the Lord Tighe railway in Ballybunion. There were only two like it in the world. If that was retained it would have been a terrific advantage because that was a monorail. The trouble was they always had to balance their load because it was a monorail. When it was set up the first day between Listowel and Ballybunion somebody had to have a cow transported from Listowel to Ballybunion and the railway company had to get the loan of another cow to balance that. Then when they went to Ballybunion they had to get the loan of another cow to bring it back. They were getting the loan of a cow from the day the railway opened until it closed.
Mr. J. Daly: I can tell the Minister, without fear of contradiction, that in the town of Killarney for the last 50 years valuable property was never used. That property is away from the station and is worth at least £500,000 for building sites in a town that is starved for building sites. CIE are starved for capital and the people are starved for houses. Why cannot the two get together and save the taxpayer money? I am not satisfied with the Minister's answer.
Senator Ferris made a point about abandoning railway stations. The EC brought in a regulation, no thanks to any Government, that a railway line cannot be taken up for ten years after it ceases to operate. The railway station I am referring to has been closed for 20 years. The Minister would know a bit about that because his people come from near Castleisland. I would like to get more clarification from the Minister about property that is not being disposed of properly. I see no explanation for the auctioning of the property.
Mr. Lyons: There are two elements in the Senator's contribution: first, the added option being sought and given in the Bill to the company and, secondly, the maximisation of the property that is lying dormant or idle throughout the country. In this respect I will restate what I stated earlier. Much of that activity is related to the day to day running of the board. I can guarantee, as I have done already on other matters that have been raised about the ordinary day to day affairs, that the one raised by Senator Daly will have to be brought to the notice of the chairman. I give the guarantee that I will do so personally.
I know the station the Senator is talking about. It is between two roads, the Killarney road and the Tralee road in a strategic location. To think that it has been lying idle for 20 years without its value being maximised — we are not being parochial when we are talking about that one — is an indication of other property in similar circumstances there may be throughout the country.
I am almost disappointed that the Senators, Deputies, councillors and auctioneers have doubts about section 5, where this Bill is giving a small option to CIE in addition to the power they have under the 1950 Act to sell by auction or by private treaty. It is operational within their terms of reference but maybe they feel some way hogtied in dealing with the disposal of small properties.
We will have to pass on to CIE that Members have some reservation about this extra option. In doing that we will be putting the board on notice that the Seanad has noticed this and they should take notice of it. In that regard, I do not know when next we will have a Bill coming back in here, when we think that we are only amending the 1950 Act now. We could not give any guarantee of whatever in practice would require to be changed. I certainly could not give any  indication. The best way we could deal with it is to convey the reservations expressed by Members about this extra option and to ensure in so far as they can that any fears they may have will not be justified in the years to come by any actions that the board would take.
Section 5 of the Regulations and Railways Act, 1889 is hereby amended by the substitution in subsection (1) of “£300, or at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months, or to both the fine and the imprisonment for “forty shillings” and the substitution in subsection (3) “to a fine not exceeding £300, or at the discretion of the court, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months, or to both the fine and the imprisonment” for the words from “to a fine not exceeding forty shillings” to the end of the subsection.
Senator Bradford referred tonight to gardaí removing two young fellows from a train who had not paid the fare. The Railways Act, as I understand it, and this is also the case in England — it may have been changed — states that any person who boards a train without a ticket may travel to the end of that journey without the ticket. When the ticket collector comes to him if, in exchange for the ticket, he gives his name and address the railway company will apply to him for the payment and if he does not pay the fare then, they can take the action to court.
I have had experience of it in the UK and here. It was a good few years ago, after the war. I do not believe the Minister was referring to the Act of 1950 when he talked of the last time the position was altered. I am sure it is not altered. If it is  still in the Act it should be made quite clear that a person can board a train, can travel from say, Cork to Dublin, and if he does not have a ticket, he gives his name and address to the ticket collector at the end of the journey. The point is that the passenger cannot be put off the train until he reaches his destination. Then the railway company have the option, as any business company would have, for any debt that is due to them to collect it through the legal process of the District Court or whatever court is involved.
In extending that fine to £300 it would want to be made clear that such a person cannot be fined if he goes on the train without a ticket and if the Act I am talking about still exists and is willing to pay afterwards. People have numerous reasons for not paying. Sometimes they go on holiday and run out of money, sometimes they lose their money, sometimes their money is stolen and they have to get on the train to get home. They are entitled to do that. It is wrong to talk about inserting a fine of £300 for what was 40 shillings before this.
Mr. Lyons: The provision the Senator is talking about is still in the Bill. The elements of it are in section 5 and it is based under the regulation of the 1889 Acts. That is not being changed but we are increasing the fine of 40 shillings, which was there when that Act was introduced in 1889 and we are increasing the penalty for fare evasion by train passengers from a maximum of £2 to a fine not exceeding £400. I indicated earlier that Members in the Dáil even put in stronger recommendations and that the Minister accepted those, providing for a higher amount and including a term of imprisonment. To answer the Senator's question, the relevant points he raised about a passenger having failed to produce a ticket, are all there in section 5 and that is being retained.
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