Dáil Éireann - Volume 98 - 17 October, 1945
Lough Corrib Navigation Bill, 1945 — Second Stage.
Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr. Lemass) Seán F. Lemass
Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr. Lemass): I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. This Bill deals with something about which most Deputies, other than those resident in Galway and Mayo, probably never heard, the Lough Corrib navigation. The objects of the Bill are twofold: first, to reconstitute the board of trustees of the navigation, and, secondly, to revise the proportions in which the contributions of the local bodies concerned are made towards the expenses of the navigation.
The Lough Corrib navigation was constructed by the Commissioners of Public Works for navigation, drainage and waterpower under the code of Drainage Acts. When it was completed, it was vested, under the Drainage Act of 1856, in a board of trustees consisting of representatives of the three contributing areas, Galway City, Galway County and Mayo County. The functions of the board related to the maintenance of the navigation, including bridges in Galway, canal locks and piers, beacons and buoys in Lough Corrib and in the adjacent loughs and rivers. This Bill, however, does not affect the functions, powers and duties of the trustees. The navigation has not in fact been used for passenger transport since 1931, in which year the  steamer service which formerly operated between Cong and the City of Galway was discontinued and in recent years merchandise traffic has consisted, chiefly, if not solely, of turf and fishing boats.
The Act of 1856, provided that every trustee should either be an agent of an estate of a certain yearly valuation or should be possessed of property qualifications of a considerable value. The Galway County Council has drawn attention to the fact that an alteration in the constitution of the board was desirable as, having regard to these statutory qualifications, there was doubt as to whether certain members of the present board were legally qualified to act and that there was difficulty in finding suitable qualified persons to fill the vacancies. There are at present four vacancies on the board.
Under the existing legislation, the board consists of 12 members, six of whom represent County Galway, three County Mayo and three Galway City. It is proposed in this Bill that the reconstituted board should be comprised of eight members, five to be elected by the Galway Corporation, two by the Galway County Council and one by the Mayo County Council. That altered representation is based roughly upon the proportionate expenditure in the different areas. Instead of the property qualification, it is proposed that any person who is a local government elector for the areas to be represented shall be eligible. The trustees will be appointed by the contributing authorities in each year in which a local government election is held. At present the trustees hold office until they die, resign or are removed. One of the county managers, to be determined by the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, will be manager of the board of trustees, with functions analogous to those of a manager in respect of a county council.
The Act of 1856, to which I have referred, provided that the cost of maintaining navigation, in so far as it was not defrayed out of the income of the trustees from tolls and similar  charges, should be borne by the townlands and baronies in the proportion set out in a navigational award of 1859. That award fixed the following proportions:— County Galway, 52 per cent.; County Mayo, 32 per cent., and the county of the town of Galway, which does not correspond to the present administrative area of Galway City, 16 per cent. These figures now bear no relationship to the comparative cost of maintaining the navigation within each area. Mayo County Council have, for instance, represented that they should be relieved of their liability to contribute to the board on the ground that the navigation is of little or no advantage to the County Mayo, the traffic, so far as that county is concerned, having been practically limited to the despatch of turf to the Galway side of the lough. Mayo County Council are also concerned that under the existing law they might have to bear a portion of the cost of maintaining certain bridges across the navigation in the Galway urban area, these bridges having been reconstructed on a larger scale than the original bridges in connection with a road improvement scheme, and which new structures, the Mayo County Council hold, confer no benefits on the population of their county.
Provision is accordingly made for a revision of the contributions to the extent that the expenditure of the board will exceed its income, as follows: the proposed new contributions will be Galway Corporation, 60 per cent.; Galway County Council, 30 per cent., and Mayo County Council, 10 per cent. These revised contributions are related more closely to the prevailing distribution of expenditure. The expenses incurred and contributed by the local authorities are to be raised by means of the poor rate, in the case of the county councils as a county-at-large charge instead of a charge upon specified areas as at present. The amount of the levy by the board of trustees on the local contributors has varied from year to year, but has not exceeded £900 a year. The proportion of that sum chargeable on the Mayo County Council has been in arrears for some years, according to the last  audited statement. The average annual expenditure in the past three years has been about £600, and at the end of last year the board had a balance in hand of £204. Having regard to the fact that the navigation is now used only to a very limited extent, and that parts of it were, in fact, never completed, it is proposed to provide means for abandoning or for transferring any works comprised in the navigation under certain conditions to local or drainage authorities without having to resort to the elaborate machinery provided in the Railway and Canal Traffic Act. Owing to the possibility of abandoning or transferring certain works, power is taken to vary the proportions in which the contributions to the local authorities will be payable. Provision is also made in the Bill to empower the contributing local authorities, after consultation with the board of trustees, to execute and maintain such works as bridges where the public interest requires the work to be of a more elaborate nature than would be required for the purposes of the navigation. In such cases, the cost is to be allocated between the local authority and the board of trustees, subject to the decision of the Minister for Local Government and Public Health on any questions which may arise.
There has been some doubt as to the precise legal liability for maintenance, as between the local authority and the board of trustees, in regard to, at least, one of the existing bridges over the Eglinton Canal. To clear up these doubts, and having regard to the fact that the maintenance of the bridges on the roadway from Wood Quay to the public road in Galway is, in present circumstances, more appropriate to the local authority than to the board of trustees, provision is made to place such liability on the Galway Corporation, the Galway Corporation being the local authority concerned. That provision excludes the possibility of the Mayo County Council being held liable to contribute towards the cost of the maintenance of these bridges.
These are all the provisions of the  Bill, the enactment of which will involve no cost on public funds.
Mr. Coogan Mr. Coogan
Mr. Coogan: The Minister has stated that this Bill does not in any way affect the functions, powers and duties of the trustees. I would like to direct his attention to Section 5, which says that the board of trustees shall be a joint body for the purposes of the County Management Act of 1940. It is clear from the provisions of that section, in relation to the County Management Act, that the powers, duties and functions of the board of trustees are, in fact, being transferred to the county manager, and that the board of trustees will have little or no functions or duties to perform under this measure. As far as I can see, the only duties they will have to perform is to hold an annual meeting of the board for the making of a demand for their expenses on the local authorities, the drafting of a few by-laws or the revocation or amendment of by-laws, and perhaps settling their own procedure.
Outside these very limited functions, all the other functions will be vested in the county manager. This is just another case of taking the control of local affairs from the elected representatives of the people and vesting them in the local bureaucracy. I think that is one very unsatisfactory feature of the Bill, because clearly a joint body, as defined in the County Management Act, is an elected body, and, therefore, it can only exercise such powers as are reserved to it in the Schedule of the County Management Act. These are known as the reserved functions. I take it, therefore, that this board of trustees will have little or no functions to perform, and will be virtually in the position of the Dean's Grange Burial Board of meeting periodically for the purpose of fixing the date of its next meeting.
I regard the provision in Section 12 (2) by which the Minister is empowered to alter the rates of contribution as practically cutting away the proportions arranged under Section 12 (1) (a). Under that section, 60 per cent. of the expenses are borne by the Galway Corporation, 30 per cent. by the Galway  County Council and 10 per cent. by the Mayo County Council. The Minister, under Section 12 (2), is empowered, after consultation with the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, to alter these contributions in any way he sees fit, to impose the entire contribution on one local authority, or to impose the contribution on two local authorities. That is a very drastic power to give to the Minister. I suggest that, on the Committee Stage, provision should be made whereby the Minister should not exercise this power until the three local authorities named in the Bill have been consulted.
I cannot go into the merits of the proportion of contributions set out in the Bill, but it would appear to me, if I understood the Minister correctly, that the Galway City contribution is to be raised from 16 per cent. to 60 per cent., that the Mayo contribution is being reduced from 32 per cent. to 10 per cent., and that the Galway County Council contribution is being reduced from 52 per cent. to 30 per cent. I am not in a position to enter into the merits of this arrangement, as I have no local knowledge on the subject, but I would seriously suggest to the Minister that it is a matter which we could perhaps thresh out on the Committee Stage when the local representatives would be present.
It is clear from what the Minister has said that the Mayo County Council are reluctant to contribute anything to the expenses of the Corrib navigation, and it is also clear from Section 12 (2) that at any time the Minister may alter the contributions as set out in the Bill. For that reason, I think the House should not give the powers in Section 12 (2) without serious consideration. As to the constitution of the board of trustees, the contributions are in the proportion of six, three, one, and I would suggest that the personnel of the board of trustees should be raised to ten and the membership fixed accordingly in the proportion of six, three, one. It would seem to be a fairer arrangement, and to give the bodies interested a better chance of having their voices heard.
Mr. Bartley Mr. Bartley
 Mr. Bartley: I do not wish to go into the details of the Bill, but I should like to say as a representative of Galway that this is a matter on which very little public interest has been evinced in Galway. As far as the trustees are concerned, apparently it has not been possible in recent years to bring them together. The reason for that I have heard suggested as a fear of certain liabilities being revived. Be that as it may, the fact is that the board of trustees was not an effective body and could not be brought together, and it seems that the introduction of the Bill has been inevitable. I do not think it is a proper Bill on which to discuss the merits of the Drainage Act. I have my own views about the working of that Act in various ways, but I should not like to obtrude them on the Minister for Industry and Commerce in connection with the Corrib Navigation Bill. I think that the Minister is really only seeking to remove an anomalous position, and to give those who may be interested in the matter an opportunity of tackling the question. I think the introduction of the Bill was inevitable, and, as a Galway Deputy, I welcome it.
Mr. Lydon Mr. Lydon
Mr. Lydon: I also welcome this Bill because it puts an end to the chaotic conditions which existed of late. I would point out to the Minister that there is no navigation whatsoever of the Corrib, and that in regard to this Eglinton Canal — that is the canal leading from the river to the sea — its only function can be as a drainage canal. At present it is in a deplorable condition. If the local authority in Galway is to contribute 60 per cent. to the carrying out of the necessary works to put this river in any kind of order, with its canals and locks, it is going to be very costly. The corporation's rate at the present time is 30/- in the £, and I do not see any hope that it will ever be reduced. I would ask the Minister to put this question to himself: what benefit is Galway going to get out of this navigation board? The bridges have to be maintained. If they did not maintain them from the navigation point of view, they could put down the ordinary concrete bridges which would last for a number of years.  I think the county at large should contribute more, and so also should Mayo. I think the suggestion of a 60 per cent. contribution will be one of the big snags, and that the Minister should try to have the contributions more evenly divided between the county and the city.
Mr. Lemass Mr. Lemass
Mr. Lemass: I stated that the powers and functions of the board of trustees were not being altered. That is quite correct. I tried to make it clear that the constitution of the board of trustees was being altered. That is one of the main purposes of the Bill. One of the alterations in the constitution of the board is the enactment of Section 5, which provides for the association of a county manager from one of the contribution counties in the management of the board's affairs. I do not think there is any case to be made for maintaining a situation in which any alteration in the proportions on which the contributions are made from the local authorities to the expenses of this body could only be effected by legislation. If any part of the navigation or works associated therewith is abandoned, if, as Deputy Lydon would appear to suggest, the whole navigation should be wound up and the various obligations resulting transferred to the local authorities concerned, then this power of variation by Ministerial Order should be there. It is a simple procedure. The whole of the navigation is now a comparatively unimportant matter. The amounts involved are very small, and it would, I suggest, be ridiculous to maintain a position in which alterations of that kind could only be made by the enactment of a measure by the Dáil.
The proposed variation in the proportions on which contributions have to be made is based upon the expenditure of the money in the areas of the local authorities. If we are asking Galway Corporation to contribute 60 per cent. of the total contribution, it is because 60 per cent. of the total expenditure will take place in Galway City. In the same way, the contributions of the other contributing bodies are related to the expenditure that occurs in their areas. If the Galway  Corporation want to raise the question of the abandonment of the navigation, the matter can be considered, provided arrangements are made for the maintenance, at the expense of the local authorities in whose areas they are located, of any works that are still necessary for drainage purposes or for the public convenience, such as the maintenance of bridges over the canal in the Galway City area. This matter is not of very great importance. It is, I think, quite possible that at some stage the whole of the works comprised in this navigation will be abandoned or transferred to one of the contributing local authorities or to a drainage authority. The Bill facilitates that transition if the case for it should arise. The Galway Corporation authorities need not feel that this Bill imposes any burden upon them or constitutes an injustice. In fact, I should think that the bulk of the expenditure which the board of trustees will have to undertake in the future will be on the maintenance of works in the City of Galway which are of convenience to the citizens of Galway.
Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday next, 24th October, 1945.
Dáil Éireann 98 Lough Corrib Navigation Bill, 1945 — Second Stage.