Dáil Éireann - Volume 86 - 19 May, 1942

Committee on Finance. - Adjournment Debate—Dublin Gas Restrictions.

General Mulcahy: I think that this is a matter which will interest the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, and I should like him to listen to the discussion because he may become involved in it.

I indicated earlier to-day that I wished to refer to the inadequacy of the gas supply in the evening in Dublin under the new order that has been issued by the Gas Company, and to the difficulties in which the people in Dublin, particularly the working classes, find themselves as a result of that order. Under the order the only time gas will be available after 1.30 in the afternoon is between 6 and 7 o'clock, and penalties are threatened by the Gas Company that gas supplies will be cut off if any person is found using the gas after 7 o'clock or immediately before 6 o'clock. If we take the building industry in Dublin, the men engaged in that industry do not get their principal meal in the middle of the day. The greater part of the workers get half an hour for a meal. They break off at 5 o'clock and are home shortly after that time. Their principal meal is taken immediately after they come home. Under the present arrangement a man who takes half an hour to get home arrives at his house about 5.30. Normally he would get his principal meal then, but now [2312] he has to wait for half an hour until the gas is turned on and then he has to wait while dinner is being prepared.

In any of the houses that I visited this morning—and I have been in quite a number—the general consensus of opinion among the women was that no meal can be prepared in an hour. We are going to have, with regard to that particular class, a very serious situation. If a man gets home about 5.30, it will probably be about 6.45 when he can get his meal. Take districts such as Marino, the North Dock area and down along by the East Wall. You have large numbers of workers in these outlying districts who are in the building industry, but who are in ordinary occupations in the city. They are unable to get home for the lunch hour and the practice of taking the major meal in the evening is widespread.

Some people think that taking the principal meal in the evening is the height of leisured respectability and elegance, but the conditions under which people work in the City of Dublin are such that in a very big number of working homes the principal meal has to be taken in the evening. The principal meal cannot be provided in these houses if gas is available only from 6 to 7 o'clock. The number of houses entirely dependent upon gas is very large. Even in corporation houses, where they have electricity, the electricity has not been used for cooking and will not be allowed to be used for cooking now. The difficulty of using the ordinary fire for cooking has come to this that there are many houses in which there has been no coal for 12 months and the odd meal that is prepared is cooked on a fire composed of sticks and turf. It will be seen, therefore, that gas is of the greatest possible importance in these homes. Whether the gas can be provided, I do not know, but if gas is available for one hour only in the evening, then we will have a very serious state of affairs in working-class districts.

There are certain things involved, and the first is the health of our people. That is a matter of prime [2313] importance. The position is rendered all the more difficult by reason of the shortage of supplies. It must be remembered that many people are subject to illnesses and, because of the shortage of supplies and the lack of gas with which to cook the food that is there, the situation will become increasingly serious. A certain amount of public discipline is involved, too. If this is to continue, then there must be a fuller explanation and closer contact between the authorities and the people. There must be some explanation as to what has been responsible for the situation that exists and what will be done to remedy it. Public discipline and morale are involved.

I was shocked to-day by the Minister's statement. I hope the Minister for Supplies will be able to qualify that statement, that he has no responsibility in the matter of gas hours. I think he has a very serious responsibility, even if it has to mean a control of the gas hours, to see that adequate gas is provided for what is the principal meal over a very large part of the city. I submit to the Minister for Local Government and Public Health that this matter is well worth inquiring into. He should examine what the result of the situation is likely to be if it lasts for any length of time. I think that such a situation cannot last without inflicting the greatest possible hardship, physical and even mental hardship, on large numbers of people. This is a matter that requires very urgent consideration and very urgent consultation with all the people likely to be able to help in the matter and there is great need for a Government pronouncement.

Mr. L.J. Walsh: Before the Minister replies to Deputy Mulcahy I should like, on behalf of other gas concerns throughout the State, to appeal to the Minister not to apply to these gas concerns the conditions which he possibly might apply in the City of Dublin. I have some experience of running a gas concern and I am very alarmed, as all people who have a responsibility are, at the position in relation to the production of gas. I know the situation in Dublin is very acute and requires urgent attention on [2314] the part of the authorities. From my knowledge of the situation, the Minister's responsibility in this matter begins and ends with allocating the available supply of gas coal to the various gas concerns throughout the State. If any serious consideration has to be given to the control of the supply of gas, I do suggest to the Minister that he should leave that to the local concerns, and not make the issue a national one to be directed by him, because, in my opinion, what will suit in one district certainly will not suit in another. Conditions and hours which may suit in the City of Dublin, for instance, will not suit us in the town of Drogheda, and incidentally I may mention also the town of Dundalk in my constituency. It is for that reason that I ventured to intervene in this discussion raised by Deputy Mulcahy on the question of gas. I do know that the position is that gas coal simply cannot be obtained, and we are getting our proportion of it as it arrives, but we find great difficulty in the town of Drogheda in keeping up the gas supply.

We have to use very inferior qualities of coal, and the simple answer, in my opinion, to Deputy Mulcahy's question to the Minister is that the gas coal is not available, and, judging from the reports which I read in the Gas World, it is not likely to be made available by the British Ministry of Mines.

General Mulcahy: In the meantime, are the workers of Dublin to go without their evening meal?

Mr. Walsh: The same applies to Drogheda and other towns. Are we all to be sacrificed to Dublin City?

General Mulcahy: I have not asked that.

Minister for Supplies (Mr. Lemass): Deputy Mulcahy is quite right in saying that the curtailment of gas supplies in Dublin is a very serious matter. It is bound to cause a great deal of hardship, but there is nothing we can do about it, and Deputy Mulcahy had no suggestion as to what we might do about it. It is almost impossible to give any more adequate explanation [2315] of the causes of the curtailment of the gas supply than that given by the Gas Company in their public statement. As Deputies will remember, the Gas Company stated: “The curtailment of gas supplies was due to the inadequacy of coal supplies and the unsuitability for gas-making of most of the coal received. An important contributing factor, however, has been the use of gas outside authorised hours. In addition, the unsuitability of the coal, together with the insufficient saving in gas consumption, has resulted in our production plants being seriously overloaded, and it is now imperative that major repairs be carried out to them.”

It may be no harm to avail of this opportunity to give the House, and through the House the citizens of Dublin, a clearer picture of the position in respect of supplies of gas coal than they appear to have. For a great many months past, the Dublin Gas Company has been facing the problem of how to limit the consumption of gas to the production of gas. I do not want to enter into any technical details. I do not know that any Deputy here would be any more competent than I am to discuss this matter as a technical problem, and I think we can assume that the Dublin Gas Company has all the technical advice that it requires and is efficient to handle a very difficult situation in the best way. But no amount of technical advice or no degree of technical efficiency will enable the Gas Company to produce gas without coal, and for months past the Dublin Company has been unable to obtain, either through its own efforts or through the efforts of the Department of Supplies, the quantity of suitable coal necessary to meet normal consumption. Even such quantities as can be obtained are frequently delayed through causes outside the control of anybody in this country.

The normal average production and consumption of gas in Dublin was 9.2 million cubic feet per day, which required practically 4,500 tons of gas coal per week. Since last September, the quantity of gas coal allocated to the whole of this country by the British Ministry of Mines is 1,000 tons per [2316] week. May I remind Deputies of the figure I gave them earlier? The normal consumption of gas coal by the Dublin Gas Company alone was 4,500 tons per week. The quantity of gas coal we have been getting since last September for the whole country is 1,000 tons per week. That 1,000 tons of coal per week is allocated by the Department of Supplies to the various gas companies in the country, and the allocation is made upon the basis of normal usage. Out of that import of gas coal, the Dublin Company gets, on the average, 660 tons per week, against a normal consumption of 4,500 tons. Every effort is made by the company to supplement that supply of gas coal with any other kind of coal that could be used for gas production, but the average imports of all classes of coal by the Dublin Gas Company since the beginning of this year have been 2,700 tons per week.

When the company introduced the rationing scheme at the beginning of March, it was hoped that the hours then provided for would limit the consumption to the desired extent. The hours of supply were cut from 24 hours a day to ten hours, with an additional hour on Sunday. Notwithstanding that big reduction in the hours during which gas was available, the consumption of gas in Dublin fell only from 9.2 million cubic feet to 8.3 million cubic feet per day. Now, it is important to know that of that consumption of gas, not less than 2,000,000 cubic feet were consumed during the off hours. The gas company informed me that there are no practical means, under the system of mains in Dublin, of preventing that irregular use of gas. The availability of gas in the mains during the off hours is confined to certain parts of the city, and, so long as the people living in those favoured areas are proof against all appeal and all threat, that excess consumption of 2,000,000 cubic feet of gas per day will continue. For the consumption of 8.3 million cubic feet, which was the average daily consumption up to yesterday, approximately 3,200 tons of coal per week were used, against an average weekly importation by the company of 2,700 tons. The fact that [2317] the consumption of gas in Dublin was not brought down in relationship to the importation of coal necessitated the introduction of the further rationing scheme which begins to-day, and it is estimated that this further reduction in the hours during which gas will be available will reduce the consumption to 7.1 million cubic feet. 7.1 million cubic feet is the quantity of gas which can be produced from 2,700 tons of coal.

If the imports of coal fall below that figure, further restrictions will become inevitable. When speaking of coal, it should be mentioned that very serious difficulty is being experienced in using a great deal of the coal which is brought into Dublin and which is included in the figure of 2,700 tons to which I have referred.

As I have already told the Dáil, in that 2,700 tons there is only 660 tons of the type of coal which ordinarily would be used by a gas-producing concern. A great deal of the coal coming in is slurry, and Deputies will probably remember that a very serious accident —which might have had fatal results— occurred some months ago when slurry was being used. Deputies will note that the reduction in the number of hours during which gas is supplied from 24 to ten only produced a reduction in consumption from 9.2 million cubic feet to 8.3 million cubic feet. Although it is now proposed to restrict the hours of supply to five and a half, the consumption is estimated to be 7.1 million cubic feet. It is clear that, if the 2 million cubic feet of gas which is now being used irregularly in the off-hours by people in certain districts, could be saved, it would be possible to get back to the position which existed up to to-day. On the other hand, if the imports of coal fall further a more serious situation will arise. Again, those people who are using gas during the off-hours will still have the benefit, to the detriment of everyone else. It cannot, therefore, be too strongly brought to notice how these people are affecting the whole supply of gas to the City of Dublin.

It may be asked how the company has been carrying on with their supply of coal below their consumption. The [2318] reply is that they came into the beginning of the year with some stocks still on hand. It was not a very large stock —only 5,000 tons—but it helped to eke out the supplies arriving in each week. That stock now is practically exhausted. On six occasions this year, the Department of Supplies came to the assistance of the Dublin Gas Company, by giving supplies of coal from the very limited national coal reserves. I may also mention that, but for those national reserves of coal, the gas undertakings in Cork, Limerick and Dundalk might have been closed, at least temporarily. In addition to coal, the Dublin Gas Company uses substantial quantities of fuel oil for gas production. The restricted supplies of coal, as well as the inferior quality of the coal available, would require an increased usage of fuel oil; but that commodity—like all other petroleum products—is also severely restricted. However, we are endeavouring to give, out of the restricted supplies available, the largest possible proportion to the Dublin Gas Company.

Deputies will remember that, in the quotation from the Gas Company's statement which I read, reference was made, first of all, to the inadequacy of the coal available; secondly, to the poor quality of that coal; thirdly, to the difficulty of preventing the consumption of gas during the off-hours in certain districts; and, fourthly, to the problem of plant repair. It is the practice of the Dublin Gas Company to repair its plant during the summer months, and that process is being carried out at present. The type of coal available to the company is such that more maintenance work is required than in normal times; and the fuel capacity of the plant at present, while those repairs are being undertaken is only 7.6 million cubic feet per day from the type of coal that is being received. Therefore it is clear that, even if all the coal which the company could use were available, its total maximum production under present circumstances is 7.6 million cubic feet per day. Having regard to the fact that it is not getting all the coal required, and that the coal it is getting is unsuitable for gas production, its [2319] total estimated output per day is 7.1 million cubic feet.

No matter how we arrange the hours during which gas will be supplied in the city, the total amount of gas that can be supplied is 7.1 million cubic feet. Now, as between individuals, there may be a difference of opinion as to the hours during which a supply of gas is most convenient to the majority of the people. The hours during which it is now proposed to supply gas were fixed by the Gas Company, but were fixed by them with reference to their knowledge as to the portion of the day during which gas was in most general demand by Dublin householders. We could alter those hours to some extent, but not if that alteration involves a larger consumption of gas than 7.1 million cubic feet, because that is the total quantity that can be made available.

General Mulcahy: If that is the total quantity, why not run the evening hour from five to seven and give the people who have the work to do for their families the whack out of the gas available, and leave less to be consumed by the luxury hunters spoken about, who use gas after hours?

Mr. Lemass: I do not know what the Deputy is referring to. If it is the people who get gas in the off-hours who are meant, what I have said is that no practical means exist of stopping them. Gas is still in the mains after the supply is cut off at the plant, and that gas drifts into certain portions of the city the altitude of which is higher than the centre of the city. The people with houses in those areas cannot be prevented from using that gas, except in the manner which the Gas Company proposes to adopt. They are making it a breach of contract between themselves and the individual to use gas during the prohibited hours and have said that, if they find individuals are using gas during those hours, they will cut the supply off altogether. Apart from the enforcement of penalties of that kind, there is no physical method of preventing the gas being available to the householders in those districts.

If we could, in fact, prevent the [2320] usage of gas during the off hours in those districts, there would be 2,000,000 cubic feet per day available, which would enable the gas company to restore the hours that operated up to yesterday. Therefore, it is very largely a matter of securing, in the districts concerned, the co-operation of the public in not using the gas in the hours during which it is prohibited. If they will co-operate, if we can secure that gas will not be used during those hours in those districts, 2,000,000 cubic feet of gas per day can be saved; and then the 2,700 tons of coal per week which the company gets will enable gas to be maintained during the ten hours that it was available each day up to yesterday. This is assuming, of course, that the 2,700 tons of coal will continue to be received. There can be no guarantee of that. I do not want Deputies to misunderstand my attitude. I appreciate as well as any other person familiar with Dublin conditions the hardship the curtailment of the supply is going to mean.

I think it is correct to say that more than 80 per cent of the houses in Dublin have gas for cooking laid on. That very high proportion of the number of residents depending on gas for cooking will give Deputies an indication of what curtailment of gas will involve, in the way of inconvenience and even of hardship. But there is no remedy, at any rate, to be found by altering the hours during which gas is available, as it is not possible to make more gas available. The total quantity of coal available, operated in the plant of the gas company, will not produce more than 7,100,000 cubic feet of gas, and that is all that can be given.

I am quite prepared to convey to the gas company any representations made to me by Deputies as to the suitability of the hours they have chosen, but we cannot alter those hours in a manner which involves a greater consumption of gas. If we make the evening hours 5 to 6, 5.30 to 6.30 or 6.30 to 7.30 or substitute an extra hour in the evening instead of midday, we cannot make available gas in greater quantity. These hours are those considered by the gas company as the hours during which [2321] people are most likely to require gas, judging by their own records of usage.

It is a matter upon which individual opinions are not agreed. No two classes of people will agree as to the most convenient hours, but I think very little alterations in the existing hours could be made which would not cause as much new hardship as it would remove. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to hold out any prospect of an improvement in the position. Contact has been made with the British Department of Mines and this question of a larger supply of gas coal has been taken up with them on many occasions, the most recent of which was in the present week. From the information supplied to me from that Department, it is quite evident that there is little prospect of any increased supply of gas coal. Perhaps in some circumstances it might be possible to get a supply of other classes of coal. An inferior slurry has been available to the company up to the present, and part of the company's difficulties are due to the fact that it has had to use that inferior coal. The use of it has involved the breakdown of plant, and has occasioned the repairs now in progress. I think we have to accept this position as one of the things inevitable in present circumstances.

General Mulcahy: Has this question of six to seven, as the only hour after one o'clock, been the subject of consideration between the Minister and the Gas Company or any other people in the city?

Mr. Lemass: Certainly. The Gas Company informed me of their proposals [2322] in the matter of a reduction of hours during which gas would be available. I requested reconsideration of those hours, in the light of certain representations which I made. The Gas Company did reconsider the hours, and made some minor changes in them, but they informed me that their knowledge as to the usage of gas in the City of Dublin indicated that the hours now in operation were the hours during which the great majority of the people wish to take gas and did, in fact, normally use the greatest quantity.

General Mulcahy: I would like to assure the Minister that the hour six to seven cannot stand.

Mr. Lemass: It can be 5.30 to 6.30 or 6.30 to 7.30, but it is not possible to increase the period. If you increase the period, it involves the use of more gas than is available. There is no other possible solution of this difficulty in present circumstances. We must secure the non-usage of gas in the off-hours by the people in the favoured districts, when gas is available to them in the off-period as at present. If we can get those people to realise that they are causing widespread hardship and inconvenience in the city, by availing of their accidental position; and secure a general understanding amongst them to comply with the requirements of the company, and not to use gas during the off-hours, assuming the resulting saving can be translated into terms of coal it may be possible to extend the hours again.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.35 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 20th May.