Dáil Éireann - Volume 129 - 21 February, 1952

Committee on Finance. - Vote 51—Transport and Marine Services.

Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr. Lemass): I move:—

That a supplementary sum not exceeding £120,000 be granted to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1952, for certain Transport Services; for Grants for Habours; for the Salaries and Expenses of the Marine Service (Merchant Shipping Acts, 1894 to 1947, and the Foreshore Act, 1933 (No. 12 of 1933); for certain payments in respect of Compensation, including the cost of medical treatment (No. 19 of 1946); for expenses in connection with the issue of Medals and Certificates; and for the Coast Life Saving Service.

This Vote is for the purpose of making certain payments to the Great Northern Railway Company. The House will remember that towards the end of 1950 the Great Northern Railway Company announced that because of the financial difficulties resulting from a marked deterioration in their operating results they were about to curtail transport services and to make drastic reductions in staffs. Following that announcement, at a joint meeting between the representatives of the Governments here and in Belfast with the company, the company agreed that [1035] the dismissal notices, which they had issued to their staff, would be withdrawn on an assurance being given by the two Governments that they would accept responsibility for losses incurred in maintaining services and employment, while negotiations for the purchase of the undertaking were proceeding. Both here and in Belfast there was an undertaking to give these assurances. There was not then, may I say, any further or more detailed arrangements with the authorities in Belfast and no discussion at that stage regarding the division of the liabilities that were undertaken.

A written assurance was issued on 11th January, 1951, to the company to the effect that as the company might find it necessary in the immediate future, in order to maintain existing services and appropriate employment, to incur liabilities in the ordinary course of business, pending the completion of arrangements for joint acquisition, the Government undertook in association with the Six Counties Government, that in so far as the resources of the company might prove insufficient to meet these liabilities, they would be met out of public funds. It was added that, if necessary, an Estimate would be submitted to the Oireachtas, and at the same time a similar letter was issued by the Six County authorities. An Order under the Emergency Powers (No. 157) Order, 1942, added the Great Northern Railway Company to the list of undertakings whose borrowings could be guaranteed by the Government. There were discussions with the company as to their immediate requirements, on 12th May, and the Minister for Finance gave a guarantee as to principal and interest for borrowings by the company from their bankers to a sum not exceeding in the aggregate £40,000 at any one time for a period ending September 30th, 1951, as required for the maintenance of the existing services and the employment appropriate thereto. The Six County Government proceeded on a different basis; they took a supplementary estimate and have been making periodic cash payments to the company on the basis of weekly returns since then.

[1036] Because of the guarantee that was given here of borrowings up to £40,000 and the provision which was made by way of Estimate in the Six Counties the Great Northern Railway decided to implement a number of wage awards and maintain its existing services. Later a list of materials and equipment which were required in the opinion of the company for maintenance and renewal works was submitted to both Governments and the appropriate expenditure was approved by them, but the company decided not to place orders for these materials and equipment on the ground that they could not enter into commitments which they might not be able to meet when they matured. It was pointed out that, as far as the Government here was concerned, responsibility under the guarantee was limited both in amount and in time and that that guarantee might have expired by the time the goods were delivered. We considered that to be a reasonable case and on 17th August the Minister for Finance guaranteed borrowings by the company without time limit up to a maximum of £125,000 for the purchase of materials and equipment necessary for the maintenance of the undertaking and subject to the prior agreement of the Minister for Industry and Commerce as to the items of expenditure. The company placed an order for its materials and equipment following that undertaking but to date, due to delays in delivery, not more than £21,000 has been withdrawn from the special account which was opened in connection with that guarantee of £125,000 to which I have referred.

In October, the original guarantee of £40,000 given in respect of operating expenses was extended to 31st December last and in December the amount was raised to £75,000 and the period extended to 31st March next. The company have recently indicated that its overdraft with its bank against that guarantee exceeds the limit of £75,000 and that the bank has requested that an arrangement be made to reduce that overdraft.

I mentioned that at the time when the joint proposal was made to the company. There was no discussion [1037] concerning the division between the two Governments as to how the liability should be divided. When recently we were able to conclude the provisional agreement with the Six Counties Government for the joint acquisition of the undertaking we discussed also this matter of the division of liability arising out of this undertaking and it was agreed that any losses arising should be met to the extent of 60 per cent. by the Six-County Government and 40 per cent. by us.

Any method of endeavouring to estimate how a charge of that kind should be divided, having regard to the character of the system, would give roughly a 60-40 per cent. division; that represents the division of the mileage of line between the two areas and of the gross receipts arising in the areas. We, however, stipulated, as an offset against any charge that might arise upon public funds here, that there should be an adjustment in the amount payable by us which would give us full credit for any profit derived from the company's road services which are entirely within the Twenty-Six Counties area, and also for any increased revenue derived from our sanctioning of increased rates and fares. The fares charged by the Great Northern Railway Company in respect of traffic originating in the Twenty-Six Counties were increased at the same time as Córas Iompair Eireann charges were increased, as we considered it preferable to meet the problem of the rising costs of the Great Northern Railway Company by increasing charges rather than by contemplating a higher subsidy.

On the basis that we are responsible for 40 per cent. of the cash deficit of the company, after taking credit for the road services and for the receipts attributable for the rates and fares, it is estimated that we are responsible for a payment in respect of the 15 months from January, 1951, to March, 1952, or a total of £117,466, and, as Deputies will note, on the back of the Estimate that is the amount provided —at least it is rounded up to £118,000— the amount to be paid to the company [1038] in respect of operating losses and revenue charges. I should say that there is a considerable element of estimation in these calculations and that adjustments may be necessary later in the final accounting with the Six Counties Government. The figure for losses would have been considerably larger if the company had not deferred placing orders for materials and equipment.

The fact that any charge arises on public funds here, I know, will be a disappointment to some Deputies because they may have been under the impression that the Twenty-Six County part of the Great Northern system was producing a profit or, at worst, breaking level. That was true up to last year, but it is no longer true. The increased wages and salaries which came into operation last year increased the company's operating charges in a full year by £370,000 and there have also been increases in the cost of coal and oil. Furthermore, Deputies will recollect that there was a prolonged strike on the company's omnibus services which diminished earnings from that source, and its earnings were also affected to some extent by the strike on the Córas Iompair Éireann system.

Against these increased wages and salaries which came into operation last year, the rates and fares were increased in September, the average increase being 16⅔ per cent. on rates and 12½ per cent. on fares, the same increases as were effected on the same date by Córas Iompair Éireann. These increases are estimated to bring in £212,000 for a full year. So, it will be noted that the full estimated increase in revenue from the higher rates and fares will not be sufficient to offset the increased charges on the company arising from higher wages and salaries alone, apart altogether from the increased cost of fuels and materials. Nevertheless, the company consider that they are the highest increases that the traffic will bear and that to attempt to raise them further would not increase their revenue but might cause a loss through a diversion of traffic.

These increases operated in the Twenty-Six Counties area only. There was no increase made in the local [1039] charges in the Six Counties area because the company's charges there are already in line with those of the Ulster Transport Authority and, in the company's view, have to be maintained in line with those charges.

That is a brief statement of the reasons why this Estimate is required.

The House will remember that, following the discussions which proceeded between the Minister for Commerce in Belfast and myself, a joint statement was issued indicating that both Governments had found it possible to agree on a basis for acquiring the Great Northern Railway and for its operation by a joint board. Legislation to give effect to that agreement is in course of preparation. I cannot yet say when it is likely to come before the Dáil. It is obviously in our interest to speed it up as much as possible but there are some matters of detail for decision before it can be completed.

Mr. Norton: Is it likely to be passed before the Summer Recess?

Mr. Lemass: I should hope so. I shall certainly endeavour to ensure that, if possible. There is one further item in the Supplementary Estimate to which reference should be made. The House is aware that the Dundalk-Newry and Greenore railway, which has been operated by the Great Northern Railway on an agency basis, ceased operations in December last. The British Transport Commission had borne the annual loss which arose from the operation of that railway and had announced that it was not going to meet that loss after that date. The property of the company was due for disposal and included in that property was the Greenore Hotel. An announcement appeared that the Greenore Hotel was to be sold by auction. We have reason to believe that an important industrial project can be arranged for Greenore and that the prospect of the development of that project at Greenore depends upon the availability of the hotel or, at any rate, that the prospect of getting the project proceeded with at Greenore [1040] would be subject to the availability of the hotel and the adjoining harbour and railway property.

We are, of course, most anxious that there should be some development of alternative employment at Greenore and, in order to ensure it, considered it desirable to take steps to ensure that the property would not be broken up because, if it was broken up and passed into different ownership, it would make industrial development there more difficult, if not impossible.

In the circumstances, the Government decided to authorise the Great Northern Railway Company to purchase the Greenore Hotel and golf course, which it did for a sum of £17,000, and authorised it also to take an option on the adjoining harbour and railway property.

Mr. Davin: Including the lairages?

Mr. Lemass: Yes. The Great Northern Railway were informed that any expense that was incurred by them in connection with these transactions would be recouped from the special guaranteed account and it is now necessary to obtain the sanction of the Dáil for that arrangement by including in the Estimate provision for the repayment of the purchase price of the property with cost to date amounting to £17,500. If that industrial project to which I have referred should materialise—and I would not like the Dáil to be under the impression that all difficulties associated with it have been overcome yet—but if these difficulties are overcome and the project materialises, then those who are promoting the project will be charged with the full purchase price of the hotel, with interest on the amount of the purchase price and any incidental costs for maintenance that may be incurred in the meantime.

Mr. Norton: Will the Minister say who will hold the property?

Mr. Lemass: The property will be held by the Great Northern Railway Company.

Mr. Norton: And will it continue to be so held after you pay the Great Northern Railway the £17,000?

[1041] Mr. Lemass: Yes, and operated by the Great Northern Railway Company. The hotel is still open and it is intended that it should remain open because it would prevent its deterioration. It is intended, however, only that the Great Northern Railway Company should hold the property until satisfactory arrangements can be made for its future utilisation for industrial purposes. There may be some losses incurred by the Great Northern Railway Company in the operating of the hotel and refreshment room until that happens but, if so, it is intended that these losses should also be recouped in the price at which the property will be transferred to anybody taking it over for industrial purposes.

Mr. Norton: Will the Great Northern Railway Company hold this property jointly or hold it separately for us?

Mr. Lemass: The Great Northern Railway Company are the legal owners of the property. They acquired it on that understanding with us, that they were taking custody of the property with a view to its re-sale for industrial purposes when required without loss to themselves.

Mr. Norton: So they are really holding it on our behalf?

Mr. Lemass: On our behalf.

Mr. Norton: Not jointly?

Mr. Lemass: Not jointly with anybody else. Discussions relating to this industrial project have been proceeding and I am hopeful that they will conclude successfully. I do not want to sound too optimistic; I do not want to arouse expectations which may be dashed.

Mr. Cosgrave: Could the Minister indicate what is the nature of the project?

Mr. Lemass: I think it would be undesirable. The Deputy will understand that. Nothing has yet emerged from the negotiations which are proceeding which would justify pessimism or a conclusion that it will not develop. In any event, even if the project that is now under discussion [1042] did not develop, the group of buildings and the harbour facilities at Greenore are, I think, eminently suitable for some important industrial development. I think it would be undesirable to allow parts of the property to pass into different ownership, which would preclude that possibility indefinitely. If, of course, no such project should develop, then we might have to be satisfied with half a loaf arrangement, but while there is a prospect of a major development, we ought to ensure that no impediments are put in its way. It was for that reason this proposal was made to the Great Northern Railway Company and agreed to by them.

Mr. Cosgrave: The introduction of this Estimate in the calm atmosphere of to-night does not give an adequate picture of the anxiety which the employees of the Great Northern Railway Company felt when the company announced through the Press the crisis that had been reached in its financial affairs, some 18 months ago. At that time, the Government here and the Government in the Six Counties announced after discussion that it was their intention to meet the operating losses, and so prevent any avoidable unemployment. Consequently the anxiety which the workers and their families felt was allayed. Since then, the Minister for Industry and Commerce has, on behalf of the Government here, successfully concluded the negotiations. I believe that he should be congratulated on bringing these negotiations to a successful conclusion. I say that because at one time I had some contact with the matter, and I am very pleased that it has been brought to a successful conclusion, not only for the sake of the Great Northern Railway Company and the employees of the company, but because of the goodwill which agreements of this nature generate between the people of this part of the country and our fellow-countrymen in the Six Counties. The goodwill which has been generated by a number of agreements of this nature—the Erne electricity agreement, the Foyle and Bann fisheries agreement, and the Great Northern Railway agreement-must inevitably [1043] have reactions on the ultimate reunification of the country. In fact, I am convinced that the solution of that problem is to a far greater extent dependent on negotiations of this sort than on certain other methods or of probably any alternative approach. Consequently, I believe that the satisfactory conclusion of these negotiations augurs well for the future. For these reasons, the House welcomed the announcement made some months ago that agreement had been reached, and will no doubt assent to this Supplementary Estimate.

There is not much in connection with the Estimate that requires to be discussed. It is, of course, unfortunate to say the least of it that the second major transport concern in the country requires to be assisted by a State subsidy and the time has probably arrived when serious consideration will have to be given to the question of the extent to which the State can continue to subsidise transport in the absence of any remote, not to mention immediate, possibility of public transport concerns being in a position to pay their way or being placed by legislation in that position. However, the responsibility of maintaining employment in the Great Northern Railway transcended any question of the extent to which the drain on public finances would make that course undesirable and the decision to provide by way of direct Exchequer contribution the operating losses of the Great Northern Railway was reached when it was obvious that the maintenance of the employment and the livelihood of those concerned depended on some action being taken by the two Governments.

This Estimate has been arrived at on a division of the liability between the two Governments and, from what the Minister said, it appears a reasonable division. Up to last year, the portion of the Great Northern Railway Company operating within our jurisdiction was run at a profit. It was obvious for some time that if wage awards and other increased liabilities were assumed by the company, that position would not continue for long. Apparently a stage [1044] was reached some months ago when the portion of the line operating in this part of the country ceased to pay its way. It is, however, a fact that the road services of the Great Northern Railway Company are operated at a profit. Of course, they are exclusively within our jurisdiction and consequently credit will be claimed for the profit made on that part of the undertaking.

The other matter included in the Supplementary Estimate is the purchase of the Greenore Hotel and property. I believe it is a wise decision to purchase that property on the assumption that the property and the harbour there may be made available for an industrial undertaking. I should like to know from the Minister on what basis the price of £17,000 was agreed.

The only other matter in connection with this Estimate which I think is worthy of mention is the question of the employment position in the Dundalk workshops and the future of these workshops because, from previous experience, the workshops there had insufficient work to keep them going and were obliged to seek work outside the company. Provided work is available, conditions can operate satisfactorily but, with the development of a workshop in Belfast and the fact that Córas Iompair Éireann have workshops in Inchicore, the future of the Dundalk workshops was by no means certain. With the establishment of the new board and the operation of this company as a joint company by representatives of both Governments, the integration of the Dundalk workshops and the work carried out at the workshops for Córas Iompair Éireann may be on a better basis than was possible when these undertakings were operated entirely separately and without any consideration to the economics of the two companies.

Mr. Norton: I am very glad that the negotiations which have led to the joint purchase of the Great Northern Railway have proved satisfactory and that we can now look forward to the operation of the railway as a joint undertaking between the two Governments. I do not say that that [1045] is the ideal solution of the problem. Last year, when our Government and the Six-County Government were faced with the problem of keeping the Great Northern Railway open, our difficulties were caused by reason of the fact that the Great Northern Railway was losing heavily in the Six Counties while on the Twenty-Six County portion of the line there was at that time a substantial surplus. We realised that the line was an essential one and that the surplus would not be possible on the Twenty-Six County portion for long if the line were severed at the Border. We decided at the time that it was essential to keep the line unsevered (1) because it is a vital railway; (2) in order to preserve the employment of the workers in the industry and (3) because we were anxious to promote a more comprehensive organisation of our whole transport system. For these reasons we suggested at the time to the Six-County Government that we would be prepared to set up a national transport authority for the whole country to operate railways, canals and road transport, and that that authority should be a single authority for the 32 counties. That proposal was made (1) because it was sound from an economic point of view and (2) because it was one of those independent steps which, ultimately, we must take if we are ever to secure the union of our country from the standpoint of a reunion of minds and hearts as well.

In making that offer to the Six-County Government, I think that the Government here at the time acted in a broad-minded and generous spirit. It is obvious that they were, perhaps, putting a great deal into the pool, from a material point of view. However, we took the view that our transport services should operate as a single unit and that it was only on the basis of a single unit that they could ultimately be rationalised to provide stable employment for those men who have spent so many years of their lives in the transport industry and, at the same time, provide the efficient services which are so essential if our railways are really to be an efficient aid to our industrial and commercial activities. I was sorry [1046] that the Six-County Government did not see the matter in the same light, and, in view of their attitude at the time, nothing further could be done then to proceed with the project of establishing a national transport authority to operate our railway services as a single unit. The next best step was to purchase the undertaking jointly in the hope that at some later date the Six-County Government would see the wisdom of permitting their portion of the line to go in with the railway services in the Twenty-Six Counties and to be operated by a single authority and as a single unit. When we were engaged in these negotiations it looked as if, at one stage, the Six-County Government desired to operate the undertaking as two separate portions of a severed Great Northern Railway. I and my colleagues were strongly opposed to any such proposal. We felt that the minimum we ought to get was joint ownership of the Great Northern Railway as a single entity. It was on that basis, and only on that basis, that we consented to purchase the Great Northern Railway. I am glad that the Six-County Government recognise the wisdom of the joint purchase and joint operation of the Great Northern Railway. The notion of severing the railway and of operating one section of it to the Border and the other section after that would have given us a chaotic method of transport.

The agreement to sell the Great Northern Railway to both Governments, in joint ownership as a single unit, removes for ever, I think, the possibility of severance of the Great Northern Railway into two units. I hope that, in the course of time, the fact that both Governments now own the Great Northern Railway jointly will induce both Governments to recognise—I have no doubt the recognition will be speedily forthcoming from this side of the Border— that the railway line is of a character and a size which would well merit its integration with the remaining transport services of the country and its operation as a single transport system for the entire country. The fact that these negotiations have been brought to a successful conclusion is a matter [1047] of congratulation for all those concerned.

I am very glad that there was no question of resorting to a subsidy by both Governments to keep the line going. A subsidy of public money to a privately-owned undertaking such as this could not be justified on any grounds and I for one was strongly opposed to any idea that the public cheque book should be used to write cheques for a privately-owned undertaking. The feeling was widespread that in the circumstances of the Great Northern Railway public ownership was inevitable and that it was only by bringing the line under public ownership and operating it at least jointly by both Governments that you can ever get a satisfactory service or ever get any confidence behind the railway which might ultimately result in its operation being put on a satisfactory basis.

Like Deputy Cosgrave, I feel pleased that these negotiations have been brought to a satisfactory conclusion and that both Governments have wisely recognised that joint ownership is the only effective solution for a difficult problem. I hope that joint ownership is just the first step and that it will not be long until the entire transport service is operated for the benefit of the entire country so that we may, by single ownership and operation of our entire transport service, give a clear example of the obvious advantages which would follow from a reunification of the national territory in other spheres as well.

I am very glad that the Greenore Hotel and the surrounding accommodation have been purchased and I think the purchase price indicates that there is not likely to be any loss involved so far as the State is concerned. Greenore is a port which has many obvious advantages, advantages of a kind which could be utilised to our particular benefit. It can easily be made a port through which a substantial number of cattle can be shipped to Britain. If its possibilities in that respect were developed, the overcrowding at other ports would probably be obviated and the considerable amount of traffic which now takes place from [1048] outside our Twenty-Six Counties could be attracted to the port. I am glad that the Greenore property has been saved and I hope, whatever its ultimate use may be, that that use will take full cognisance of the desirability of exploiting to the full for the nation's benefit the obvious advantages which Greenore offers.

Mr. Davin: The Minister has made a very clear case for the acceptance of this Supplementary Estimate and proved, I am sure, to the satisfaction of Deputies that it is being brought in merely for the purpose of implementing a provisional agreement entered into between the Government of the Republic and the Six-County Government. Pending the introduction and passage of the necessary legislation, I hope that nothing definite will be done at the port of Greenore to prevent it from being used at some future date, as Deputy Norton suggested, for the shipment of cattle and goods.

Mr. Lemass: The legislation will not affect it.

Mr. Davin: Records will prove that previous to the coming into operation of the Railway (Amalgamation) Act of 1924 the port of Greenore was a very prosperous one. I have some knowledge and a little experience of the working of that port, and I hope the Minister will advise those concerned not to interfere in any way with the very valuable cattle lairages there, which have been used to great advantage in the past on occasions of emergency. The Minister should look up the records previous to 1924. There is another period which will prove that Greenore was used to considerable advantage by the people interested in the export of live stock from this country. When the shipping companies in the port of Dublin decided to close the port and lock out their workers, these exporters used to the fullest possible extent the port of Greenore, for the purpose of keeping up the flow of live stock to Great Britain. Anybody who knows anything about the geography of the place will agree that it still can be used and, in my opinion, should be used for providing shipping facilities, probably by some of our own Irish ships.

[1049] I am fully satisfied that Greenore was frozen out as a matter of policy from the time the Border was created many years ago. If the Minister does not know it, his advisers can tell him that even during the last emergency traders complained to his Department, and complaints were made through the Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Irish Manufacturers that traffic over a period of years was not coming into the country within a reasonable time from the purchase of that port by the people who were interested on this side of the channel. The reason given was that the traffic could not flow as rapidly as it should between the port of Holyhead and the port of Dublin. If Dublin ships were made available, as they could have been, instead of being diverted to Larne and Stranraer and Belfast and Heysham, and were used on the normal route for which they were built, and if the port of Greenore had been used during that period, there would be no necessity for complaints of that kind.

I hope, therefore, the Minister will take the necessary steps to see that the valuable property, such as cattle lairages and other equipment, at Greenore will be preserved until some final decision has been taken in the matter. The property should be preserved irrespective of the development which he indicated in introducing the Estimate.

I hope his prophecy in regard to the provision of a new industry in Greenore will turn out to be correct. Apart from that, I hope he will bear in mind that Greenore could be used as a suitable port for the shipment of all classes of traffic from our eastern counties. Previous to the coming into operation of the amalgamation, inducements by way of secret rebates were given by competing companies in the North to induce live stock and other traffic to go via Derry and Belfast ports to the detriment of Greenore and the port of Dublin. The Minister knew something about it even during his own period as Minister.

I think the purchase of the hotel was one of the best bargains ever made. It is a very valuable and fairly up-to-date hotel. There is no doubt that it would [1050] be fully occupied during the summer holiday period. I am not a judge of the value of property, but I think it has been got for a “song” so far as the price provided for in this Estimate is concerned.

In any other centre in the country that hotel would fetch anything from £50,000 to £75,000. I agree that the Minister has made a very clear case for the acceptance of this Estimate, and I hope that the legislation to implement the provisional agreement arrived at between the Government of the Republic and the Six County Government will be brought before the House at an early date, and passed before we adjourn for the summer holidays.

Mr. Byrne: I join in the congratulations to the Minister on the successful conclusion of the negotiations. At the same time, I know that the Minister will be gracious enough to permit me to couple with those congratulations the name of Deputy Cosgrave who, in the early days, carried on, more than half-way, the negotiations that have now been brought to a successful conclusion. I should like to put on record our appreciation of Deputy Cosgrave's services, as well as those of the present Minister.

I would hope, with Deputy Davin and the other speakers, that use can be made of Greenore in the future. I am told that use could be made of it as an important industrial centre, and that there is room for an extension of industry at Greenore. It has a fine harbour, and perhaps with good management and the expenditure of a little money it could be equipped to take our own ships. I cannot recollect how many years it is since passengers used to travel from Dublin to Greenore and cross to the other side. Perhaps I could be told how long ago that is.

Mr. Lemass: About 25 years ago.

Mr. Byrne: I well remember that passengers were carried to the other side on that route. I am told that it is very important to the people in Greenore that the area should be developed for industrial purposes [1051] where good employment could be given.

Mr. Lemass: I should like to express my gratification at the expressions which have been voiced of satisfaction with the agreement made with the Great Northern Railway Company. I think I should say that that agreement was the product of a general desire, shared by the Government in Belfast with the Government here, that a practical solution should be found for the difficulties of the Great Northern Railway position, and that a workable arrangement should be made for the carrying on of the services provided by the Great Northern Railway Company.

The agreement was not easily reached. We might have preferred a somewhat different arrangement and so probably would Mr. McCleery and his colleagues, but we found, after a detailed examination and much discussion, that it was possible to reach an arrangement which both of us could accept. I am grateful to Deputy Cosgrave for his references to my part in the matter. I would like to say, too, from my own knowledge of what happened, derived from reading the record of the Department, that he personally put enough work into the negotiations to deserve success, and that it was not his fault that he did not achieve it.

Deputy Norton referred to the proposal which was put forward during the course of these discussions for one national transport authority. In case that might be regarded anywhere as an agreed policy, I would like to say that I am not sure that I agree with it at all. I am not sure that, if Partition ended and there was no political difficulty in giving effect to it, I would advocate it as a sound idea for transport policy. However, it is only an academic question at the present time, and there is no point in discussing it further.

Despite the fact that an agreement has been made with the Belfast Government for the taking over of the Great Northern Railway and the operation of services over the Great Northern Railway system under the [1052] direction of a joint board, it is not by any means certain that the difficulties of the Great Northern Railway or its successor can be regarded as over. Any transport system that is losing money must always be regarded as being in jeopardy. I cannot say what the policy of the joint board may be in relation to the undertaking, or what view it may have concerning the carrying on of the services now provided in either area. The agreement provides for the making of decisions by the appropriate authority in either area regarding the operation of uneconomic services, provided the authority making the decision carries any losses arising, but it will be clear that the position of the Government here, in relation to the Great Northern Railway and the services provided by it, will be different from its position in relation to Córas Iompair Éireann. So far as Córas Iompair Éireann is concerned, it is a matter for ourselves to decide to what extent we are prepared to call upon the general taxpayer to make good its losses. So far as the Great Northern Railway is concerned, the decisions will be taken in the first instance by the joint board and will not rest solely with us.

The price paid for the Greenore hotel was, I agree, a low one, having regard to the value of the property as a hotel. It was reached in this way. The hotel property was put up for auction and £17,000 was the best bid at the auction. The property was withdrawn. While the arrangements with the Great Northern Railway were being discussed, a further and a better offer for the hotel was received by the owners, that is by the Dundalk-Newry and Greenore Railway Company. The owners decided that it was more in their interest to sell the hotel to the Great Northern Railway at £17,000 and to give an option on the other property than to sell the hotel separately, leaving the other property to remain on their hands.

Deputy Davin made some observation about Greenore to which I think I should refer. He said that nothing should be done about the cattle lairages and other fixtures there until some final decision was made. Final decisions have been made.

[1053] Mr. Davin: To scrap the port?

Mr. Lemass: Final decisions have been made regarding the Dundalk-Newry and Greenore undertaking. The decision was made by our predecessors in October, 1950. I reexamined the matter, following the change of Government, and found no reason to advise my colleagues to reverse the decision which our predecessors had made. The Dundalk-Newry and Greenore railway was losing money very substantially. The total cost of operating the undertaking was more than three times the gross receipts earned.

There is no point in talking about the future of Greenore port, if one has in mind the operation of regular services for the carriage of passengers or freight. Passenger services from Greenore ceased away back in 1924 or 1925. There has been a weekly sailing by a cargo vessel until recently. You cannot operate any shipping services through a port without ships. The ships were provided by the British Transport Authority and they decided to withdraw them. I feel that there may be a future for Greenore port as an adjunct to an industrial undertaking in the vicinity, but there is, in my view, little likelihood of regular scheduled services for the carriage of goods being operated from Greenore port again.

I visited the port recently and inspected the premises. My visit was made at the instance of local interests who were concerned with the preservation of the railway, but I must say that it left on me the impression that it would be far wiser to try to get some modern, efficient and profitable industry into these buildings, which are very extensive and very substantial, than to continue using them as an adjunct to a decrepit and unprofitable railway undertaking. I was very happy when the industrial project to which I have referred began to emerge and the promoters of that project displayed the interest in Greenore which I expected they would display when they became aware of the facilities available there.

[1054] I can say that, if that project goes ahead at all, it will go ahead in Greenore. The only outstanding questions to be answered regarding it do not refer to its location. They turn upon the practicability of the undertaking in any location. I am hopeful that it will proceed, but even if it does not I am confident that the facilities at Greenore, the buildings which will be available at a fraction of what it would cost to construct them, and the exceptional port facilities, will in any event be sufficient to attract industrial activity to the town.

Mr. Davin: Can the Minister not see Greenore being used in emergency conditions—in the event of an overflow in Dublin—for the shipping of live stock?

Mr. H.P. Dockrell: The Minister referred to an option. Could he tell us what he proposes to do about the option?

Mr. Lemass: The Great Northern Railway own the hotel property and have an option on the rest of the property. They will retain their rights over that property until I tell them that the purpose for which they were asked to acquire the property no longer exists, in which case the future of the property will have to be considered; but I should hope that it will be possible to bring the present discussions and negotiations to a conclusion within a matter of a couple of months.

Mr. H.P. Dockrell: The option will remain open?

Mr. Lemass: Yes. I have used the term “option” to describe a rather unusual arrangement which, however, has the effect of being an option. There are certain difficulties about railway properties which do not exist in connection with other properties.

Supplementary Estimate agreed to.

Supplementary Estimate reported and agreed to.