Dáil Éireann - Volume 93 - 19 April, 1944

Committee on Finance. - Adjournment Debate—Coal for Dublin Gas Company.

An Ceann Comhairle: Deputy Alfred Byrne gave notice of his intention to raise on the adjournment the question of the provision of coal for the Dublin gas works.

Mr. A. Byrne: I am not without sympathy for the Minister in the difficulties [1170] he is faced with and I fully realise the measure of success that he has achieved up to the present in connection with this matter. Probably, I should have raised this matter by a written question, but to-day, when the question of transport difficulties due to the lack of fuel was raised, I thought it would be a suitable opportunity to remind the Minister of the many thousands of people in the city who use gas for cooking and lighting and those who, up to recently, had used it for industrial purposes. I just wish to remind the Minister that in any programme for the distribution of fuel in the future the Dublin gas company should not be forgotten and that an adequate allocation of whatever coal for the making of gas is available should be given to the Dublin gas company.

I wish to draw the Minister's attention to the fact that gas by the penny-in-the-slot method is being used considerably for cooking purposes in the houses of the very poor, in the tenement rooms, in the comfortable homes of the reasonably well-paid worker and, in many cases, in the homes of the well-to-do, and that any unnecessary curtailment of gas for that purpose would be deplorable. It would inflict considerable hardship on the class of people that I have in mind particularly, namely, the tenement dwellers who are dependent on the incandescent gas burner and the penny-in-the-slot cooker. What is known as the 2d. candle that used to be bought in the tenement quarters in Dublin now costs 7½d. Paraffin oil for lighting purposes has now gone completely.

I should like to ask the Minister whether the Dublin gas company's boats will be used to the fullest capacity to carry coal for gas production or are they likely to be used for other purposes? I heard a rumour to that effect and it alarmed me. As I say, I have a full appreciation of the Minister's difficulties and of what he has done and I merely appeal to him, no matter what the clamour may be, to see that, out of whatever supplies of coal we may have, the Dublin gas company will be provided for. We all had hoped that the Dublin gas supply [1171] might have been improved and that the hours might have been extended.

Mr. P.J. Fogarty: I do not know what the rules are, but is it necessary to have a quorum present?

Mr. A. Byrne: Those who are interested in the matter are present.

Mr. P.J. Fogarty: There are very few Deputies present to listen to him.

An Ceann Comhairle: Technically, the Deputy is right. But the absence of a quorum has not been raised on such occasions. I suggest that he should not raise it now.

Mr. Norton: There is not a Fianna Fáil Deputy for Dublin present except the Minister.

Mr. A. Byrne: I merely want to get an assurance from the Minister that he will not overlook the claim of the Dublin gas company which has for many years provided a good service of gas for the Dublin public. They have been paid for it, of course; in the view of many people, they have been paid too high a price. We all hope that they will be able to continue the supply and that the Minister and those associated with him will be successful in their efforts to provide coal for the purpose.

Minister for Supplies (Mr. Lemass): I think I will experience very little difficulty in assuring the Deputy that in whatever arrangements are made for the distribution of available supplies of coal the Dublin gas company will not be forgotten. I am surprised that the Deputy should regard such an assurance as necessary. The problems of the Dublin gas company have existed for some time past. They were not entirely due to the difficulty in obtaining supplies of coal because, as some Deputies are aware, there were difficulties created for the company by reason of the quality of the coal they succeeded in obtaining and by certain plant defects which made it very difficult for them to use the coal supplies which they got. It is necessary to effect an all-round reduction in the use of coal. The burden of the reduction will have to be borne by everybody, but, in so far as coal can be allocated for the [1172] manufacture of gas, it is obvious that certain other gas undertakings can bear a greater reduction in supplies than the Dublin gas company, gas undertakings which have been fortunately able to provide a more liberal supply of gas for their consumers than the Dublin gas company has been for some time past.

It is not possible to forecast with any certainty what the future may bring. Inevitably, the difficulties of gas production will increase, and that increase in the difficulties will be due not merely to the reduction of the quantity of coal that may be available for the purpose, but also, and perhaps even to a greater extent, to the difficulties which are being experienced and are likely to be experienced in the future in obtaining coal of a suitable quality. The main problem of the Dublin gas company and other gas companies in keeping up production in recent months has been due to the quality of coal they obtained as well as to the reduction in the quantity.

However, now that this matter has been raised, I should like to draw particular attention to one aspect of the gas supply in Dublin which is of public concern. It would be possible not merely to improve the quality of the supply in the on-hours, but possible also to increase the number of hours in which the supply is available if the use of gas in the off-hours could be entirely eliminated.

I think the time has now come when it is necessary to take far more drastic measures than have been taken heretofore to prevent the use of gas in the off-hours. I contemplate, therefore, asking the Government to make an Order which will make the use of gas in the off-hours a criminal offence. Heretofore, those who worked on the glimmer have risked only the cutting off of their gas supply. In future, they will risk imprisonment if the Order I contemplate is made and can be effectively enforced. I think the public generally will appreciate the need for such restrictions at the present time. It is due to technical difficulties that the supply of gas cannot be entirely cut off in the off-hours. Some people have been able to use gas at a time when [1173] others were not. Those people, in using that gas, were not merely acting in a manner contrary to the public interest, but were in fact depriving the citizens generally of a better supply of gas than it has been possible to give them.

The measures which will be taken now to prevent the use of gas in the off-hours will mean a better supply for the community as a whole. Those measures, however, cannot be made entirely effective unless there is public goodwill behind them—a great deal of public goodwill. I should like, therefore, to urge upon Deputies, and particularly Dublin Deputies, to avail of every opportunity they get to impress upon the public the need of ensuring that the use of gas in the off-hours will cease, and that those who for selfish reasons persist in using gas during those off-hours will be reported to the authorities so that an effective check can be put upon them. In that way, it will be possible, I hope, to maintain at least the existing hours of supply in Dublin, and possibly to improve the supply in those hours. If conditions should improve, and it should become possible for us to obtain more coal or coal of better gas-making qualities then, provided we can eliminate the use of the glimmer, it may be possible even to extend the hours of supply.

I appreciate, and I am sure everybody familiar with the circumstances of Dublin appreciates also, the difficulties which are caused for a very large number of households by reason of the curtailment of the gas supply. It means, during this time of the year, no lighting at all during the hours of night. All the gas which is now supplied in Dublin is used for cooking. The hours at which it is supplied make it impossible to use it for any other purpose, and it is not possible for us to provide alternative facilities for the lighting of those households through a ration of paraffin oil. At this time of the year it is necessary to conserve all the paraffin oil which we have for industrial and agricultural use. Paraffin oil is a vital raw material in agricultural production. The sowing and gathering of the crops would be a matter of very great difficulty without it. It is by confining [1174] the available supplies to those essential uses during the summer months and building up as we can a reserve against the winter months that a ration of paraffin oil in the winter becomes possible. I hope it will be possible for us to accumulate such a reserve this year as in last year to provide a ration of paraffin oil next winter. The problem in relation to candles is somewhat similar. Candles are made from imported raw materials. The difficulty in obtaining those materials is increasing, and in so far as we can obtain them I think it is desirable also that we should limit distribution at the present time so as to make possible an increased distribution in the winter months when lighting facilities are more urgently required.

Deputies will appreciate that neither in respect of the gas supply nor of the paraffin and candle supply can anything like a firm assurance be given. I hope it will be possible to maintain the Dublin hours unchanged, but that will depend upon so many factors outside our control that it cannot be more than a hope. I hope also that it will be possible to accumulate some reserve of paraffin against the requirements of households that need lighting in that form next winter, but again Deputies will appreciate that there are so many factors operating to affect our supplies that there can be no certainty about it. In so far, however, as Deputy Byrne requires an assurance that the special problems created by the curtailment of gas in Dublin will receive special attention, it will be given. Dublin, probably more than any other city in this country, depended upon the gas supply for cooking and lighting purposes. I think the figures show that 120,000 out of 140,000 households in the City of Dublin had a gas supply. That high proportion of the households which were depending on gas for cooking or lighting or for both purposes is an indication of the hardship which has been caused by the necessary curtailment.

Mr. Norton: Might I ask the Minister one question? Has he any information as to whether there are any stocks of coal, purchased either pre-war or in the early days of the war, in private [1175] hands here or elsewhere, and has the Minister given any consideration to the question of asking such citizens voluntarily to surrender such stocks of coal to the State at a fair price, so that those stocks of coal, if they are available to any extent, might be utilised for national instead of for domestic purposes?

Mr. Lemass: All the evidence is that any stocks of coal in the hands of private citizens are negligible. The stocks of coal of any quantity existing in the country are known, and are under control. I cannot say that no citizen has any coal in the cellar, but the indications are that there can be very little, if any at all, in private houses.

Mr. M. O'Sullivan: I will not delay the Minister more than a moment, but possibly he might be able to give us some information in regard to another aspect of this question. Apart altogether from the coal factor, as the Minister has rightly said, serious trouble is arising in the gas company. as far as plant is concerned. Would the Minister be in a position to indicate the nature and extent of the difficulties in regard to the plant in the gas works, and if they are of such character as to suggest a reasonable hope that in the near future that particular matter might be put right?

Mr. Lemass: As I understand it—the Deputy will appreciate that it is a technical matter upon which I as a layman cannot speak with authority— there are certain repairs which can be carried out and which have been arranged for to the extent of the importation of the necessary material, but the repairs will take some months to complete. The more important plant alterations which the company consider essential could not be completed within a period of a year or two, but the main work is of such dimension that it would take a very long time to do even if the materials could be procured. I think I am correct in saying [1176] that the company have been granted by the British authorities the export licences for the equipment and plant they require, but, assuming that they can get delivery of it, it will still take many months at the best before it could be put into use or would affect the supply of gas.

Mr. Larkin: Would you not think it advisable to seize all the coke and hand it over to the gas company? Coke is the important thing.

Mr. Lemass: The supplies of coke are under control.

Mr. Larkin: I am glad the Minister is taking steps to deal with those criminals who are using the glimmer. They are the real criminals. They are a most selfish class of people.

An Ceann Comhairle: If the Deputy wishes to ask a question, he may do so.

Mr. Larkin: There is a large amount of coke available in this city which is being used for other purposes but which could be used for gas production. The Minister knows that I speak with knowledge and authority.

Mr. Lemass: The use of coke is subject to control and there are, as the Deputy is probably aware, priority lists. There are other essential industries which require coke also.

Mr. Larkin: This is gas-making coke, as against coke from which gas cannot be produced.

Mr. Lemass: In so far as that can be arranged, it is being done, but there are other essential industries entitled to supplies of coke in the order of priority set out in the Government Order, and it is only when all the requirements of priority users are satisfied that coke can become available for other industrial users. In practice, for a long time past, I think the priority list has never been filled.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.55 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Thursday, 20th April, 1944.