Seanad Éireann - Volume 48 - 22 May, 1957

Turf Development Bill, 1957—Second Stage.

Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister for Industry and Commerce (Mr. S. Lemass): The principal purpose of this Bill is to confer additional borrowing power on Bord na Móna. Section 1, which relates to long term borrowing, empowers the board to borrow money which it requires for its functions from sources other than the [29] Central Fund, subject to the approval of the Minister for Industry and Commerce and the Minister for Finance. The amount which it is proposed the board should be authorised to borrow from these sources is a maximum of £2,000,000. Another section which relates to short term requirements provides that the board may borrow temporarily from any source for the same purposes and subject to similar approvals.

The main provisions of this Bill are complementary to Section 1 and deal with such matters as State guarantees, the underwriting of securities of the board, the establishment of a sinking fund for the redemption of the board's securities and for the investment of any surplus money which the board may have in hands from time to time. Since Bord na Móna was set up 11 years ago —it was established in 1946—its capital requirements have been provided mainly by way of repayable advances from the Central Fund and, to a much lesser extent, by the application to capital purposes of part of the amounts provided by the board for the depreciation of its assets. The board is empowered to borrow sums from the Superannuation Fund set up for its employees. That fund was set up only recently and it could provide only a small part of the board's capital needs at the present time.

The Central Fund is likely to continue to be the main source of finance. The statutory limitation which existing legislation imposes on advances to be made to the board from the Central Fund is £14,000,000. Up to the end of the last financial year, the total amount which had been advanced to the board was slightly over £10,500,000. There is approximately a balance of £3,500,000 available to the board and it is estimated that should be sufficient to cover the board's requirements during the next few years. Any borrowings which the board may make from sources other than the Central Fund, provided by Section 1, will count towards that limit of £14,000,000. Other legislation will be required at some stage to raise that limit, but it is felt better to leave that as it is now and to require the Government to place [30] further legislation before the Dáil and Seanad and give the Oireachtas an opportunity of examining what has been done or is proposed.

The Acts which I have quoted relate to two development programmes which were authorised and, when they were prepared, it was estimated that a total of £20,000,000 would be invested in these activities. The decision to limit the statutory authority to £14,000,000 was to ensure that the Oireachtas would have an opportunity of considering future development when that stage had been reached. The first development programme was designed to obtain 1,000,000 tons of sod peat by 1960. There was also certain provision for the production of turf briquettes and peat moss, but later it was decided that a further development programme should be initiated, the main objective of which was to produce milled peat, rather than sod peat, and utilise it in the new stations contemplated by the E.S.B. which were designed to use milled peat. The effect of that extension of the programme was to alter the targets which the board was directed to attain by 1960 to a total of 900,000 tons of sod peat and 2,500,000 tons of milled peat. It was estimated that 2.3 million tons of milled peat would be utilised in the electricity generating stations contemplated in the E.S.B. programme, and the balance of the milled peat was for briquette production.

The whole programme for sod peat and milled peat was related to the development programme of the E.S.B., the details of which were set out in a White Paper which was circulated to the Oireachtas early in 1954, prior to the enactment of the E.S.B. Act of that year which authorised the E.S.B. programme. It is known that the E.S.B. have since revised that programme and consequently Bord na Móna had to revise their programme also. The White Paper of 1954 was based on the assumption that the growth in the demand for electric power would continue in the future at the same rate as in the past and that would involve an annual increase in current of about 13 per cent. That expectation has since not been realised. Indeed, in the [31] course of the past year, the growth in the demand for power was only about 8 per cent. over the previous year.

In view of that trend, the E.S.B., in March of last year, revised their programme. The revision involved a reduction in the generation capacity contemplated by 1961 from 1,022 megawatts to 728 megawatts. The revision of the E.S.B. programme involved the postponement to some indefinite date—certainly a date after 1960—for the provision of capacity totalling 180 megawatts which was to be based on milled peat and, of course, that postponement affected all the milled peat programmes of Bord na Móna.

The generating capacity which it was intended to install in the station planned for Boora was reduced from 100 megawatts to 60 megawatts, and that in the station planned for Derrygreena, from 80 megawatts to 40 megawatts. Other stations were postponed indefinitely. Up to the date of the revision of the E.S.B. programme, Bord na Móna was proceeding with its part of the project, on the assumption that the output of milled peat from the various bogs would be required at the dates set out in the White Paper published in 1954. The provision of an alternative outlet for the milled peat which the board was not likely to require until some time after 1961 was, therefore, a matter of importance. That brings us to the reason why this Bill is needed now.

I mentioned that in the original programme an increase in the production of briquettes by Bord na Móna at its Lullymore factory was contemplated. That factory was established before the war and, of course, the capital cost of briquette production there was therefore very low. There was no difficulty in selling the briquettes produced at Lullymore at a price fully competitive with other fuels and it secured a ready demand for them. Around 1953 and 1954, in the light of the evidence that the demand for these briquettes was greater than the supply, an examination was made which showed that the establishment of a new factory to duplicate the Lullymore production [32] would involve very considerable capital outlay and production costs which would make the briquettes difficult to dispose of in view of the then price of coal. By 1955, the price of coal had increased considerably and Bord na Móna reopened the question of the possibility of expanding briquette production. At that time, however, the E.S.B. 1954 programme was still in the field. A suggestion by Bord na Móna to divert to briquettes one of the bogs they were developing for the E.S.B. programme—the Derrygreena bog—was countered by the E.S.B. with the argument that if the contemplated milled peat-using station at Derrygreena was not proceeded with, another station, which would have to be designed to use imported oil, would have to be substituted for it. The proposition was therefore turned down.

By 1956, when the board revised its programme and it was obvious that that involved a curtailment in the capacity and consequently the fuel needs of the stations to be established at Boora and Derrygreena, Bord na Móna brought forward a proposition to establish on both of these bogs briquetting plants to use the outlet of the bogs the E.S.B. would not need and that proposition was approved. The erection of these briquetting factories will be begun towards the end of this year. I think there is now no doubt that the fuel output can be sold and will be in ready demand, having regard to the many and substantial increases in the cost of coal which have taken place since. The immediate purpose of the Bill is to authorise the board to raise the capital required for these briquetting plants. It is estimated they will invest £1,800,000 in them. It is, as I indicated, intended that the board will endeavour to procure the whole of the additional sum from sources other than the Exchequer.

I think the Seanad is aware of the sympathetic interest which has been shown in this development by the firm of Messrs. Arthur Guinness and Co. They have undertaken to lend £500,000 to the board for the establishment of the first briquetting factory. The enactment of this legislation is required to authorise the completion [33] of that transaction. It is, indeed, a matter of some urgency to enable the board to accept that offer. I should like to avail again of this opportunity to pay a tribute, in which all Parties in the Dáil participated, to Messrs. Guinness for their offer and to express the appreciation of the Government for the practical assistance they are giving to one of our most important national undertakings. The fact that a firm of the repute of Messrs. Guinness and a firm with such widespread interests is prepared to invest a substantial amount in Bord na Móna is an eloquent tribute to the achievements of that board.

So far as can be foreseen at present, the effect of the revision of Bord na Móna's development programme is that milled peat production by 1960 will be approximately 1,300,000 tons instead of 2,500,000 tons originally contemplated. On the other hand, its target for sod peat production has to be stepped up from 900,000 tons contemplated in 1951 to 960,000 tons. The reason is that the stations which have already been installed by the E.S.B. to utilise such peat have proved to be more efficient than was expected. They are producing a greater output of power than planned and consequently they require more fuel.

The new station at Lanesboro will be coming into operation and it is designed to use sod peat. The rate at which milled peat production will develop in the future will depend very largely on the growth in the demand for electricity. I am hoping that the development of the national economy will require a further revision of the board's programme and that the experience of 1956 will prove to be an unreliable basis on which to plan future development.

I mentioned in the Dáil that the E.S.B. programme is being subject to examination, in any event. It is considered that there may be national advantage, even calculated on a narrow financial basis, in bringing into operation earlier than is now contemplated some of the milled peat stations in the original programme which have been indefinitely postponed—recognising that it may involve utilisation [34] to less than capacity or perhaps even the temporary suspension of operations in existing stations using oil. If that can be justified on financial grounds, the advantage to the country would be clearly obvious. We would have the very substantial employment afforded in the production of milled peat and a considerable reduction in fuel oil imports. Whether it will prove to be practical is not, however, yet decided.

The record of the board since its establishment has been one of steady progress. Its output of sod peat, milled peat, briquettes and peat moss has been increasing substantially every year and there is no reason to anticipate that that increase will not continue. The financial results have also been encouraging. When Bord na Móna was set up, it was given by the legislation which established it liability to repay a sum of over £350,000 which had been advanced from the Exchequer to its predecessor, the Turf Development Board, Limited. That board had been wound up with these undischarged liabilities and the obligation of discharging the liabilities was transferred to Bord na Móna. As a member of the Government at the time, I can say that there was not a great deal of optimism that Bord na Móna would ever be able completely to discharge those liabilities, as well as to meet the new liabilities which were necessarily involved in the extension of its operations.

I am glad to say they have now completely discharged that liability inherited from the old Turf Development Board. They have commenced to repay, upon an annuity basis, the amounts advanced for the purpose of financing the first development programme. In October next, the board will commence to repay, again on an annuity basis, part of the amount advanced in respect of the second development programme. The payment of interest on these advances is, of course, also now undertaken by the board. Indeed, by 31st March last, the board had paid the Exchequer a total of £1,500,000 in respect of interest and capital repayments.

Some aspects of the Bill—the history [35] of the circumstances that gave rise to it—provoked a little controversy in the Dáil. It was not very serious. It was merely rehashing certain arguments that had taken place earlier. I am glad to say the Bill was generally accepted by all Parties in the end and indeed passed through all stages without amendment.

Mr. Baxter: Before making a few remarks on the principles involved in the Bill, I should like to take the opportunity of offering my very warm personal congratulations to you, a Chathaoirleach, on your election as Cathaoirleach of this House and of expressing to you my sincerest good wishes for your success while you hold that office.

In regard to the proposals contained in the Bill, the Minister can probably cast his mind back to another Bill he introduced in this House. On that occasion, I took the rather unorthodox line of supporting him. He was venturing into a new field. If I may say so, he sounded much more enthusiastic then than he does to-day. I do not think he has any reason to be displeased with his achievements on the bogs of Ireland. I do not know if he has grown a little older and wiser—

Mr. Lemass: I hope so.

Mr. Baxter: ——and a little less optimistic. I do not know what is responsible but he does not seem to produce the vigour and punch with which he introduced that other Bill 11 years ago. I believe he was on the right lines. A great deal has been accomplished since then. It was a great venture. It took great pioneering spirit to go into the bogs as they were then. What has been built up in those 11 years and what we have gained from that enterprise is something of which not alone can we be proud at home, but which we may offer as an example to outside countries. If we could approach our problems of to-day with the same enthusiasm and conviction that we could make a success of our job, I think we could do a little more to change the face of [36] the country than we are doing at the moment.

We, on this side of the House, are supporting the Minister in securing the powers necessary under this Bill to proceed with further development and to find another method of securing finances for Bord na Móna. While saying that, I take the liberty of raising certain questions to which I think we should now give some study. A great deal of capital has been invested in our bogs and a great deal has been accomplished. They saved us in the periods of the emergency and it will be good to have them to call on in the future. I feel that the time has come for a fresh appraisal of our future needs in regard to power and the sources from which this power may be drawn. I do not pretend to have any special knowledge, or speak with any authority whatever, but developments in the world to-day must convince all of us that new sources of power are being opened up which the imagination of man did not visualise when the Minister introduced this Bill 11 years ago to exploit our peat resources.

I feel the time has come when there should be a get-together about our power needs and the sources from which it can be drawn. There is this further consideration. When the bogs were first harnessed, there was very little exploration done to see if they could be utilised for other purposes. In the intervening years, many new facts have been established. If we decided to look elsewhere for sources of power, atomic or otherwise—I think all this is involved in what the Minister is proposing in the Bill—it would be quite wrong for us to imagine that our bogs would be left derelict. On the contrary, I could visualise a new type of development of our peat resources which would be much more profitable nationally perhaps than utilising them as a source of power.

We know discussions took place before the Ministers returned to office in regard to securing an atomic pile for this country. This may be regarded as somewhat outside the scope of this Bill, but I do not feel it is. I am merely drawing the attention of the Minister to the fact that, once [37] we invest further capital in the exploitation of our peat resources, the investment of that capital may be a hindrance to the utilisation of other sources of power which may prove cheaper for us.

At the moment we have two bodies exploiting our peat resources. To a limited extent, Comhlucht Siúicre Éireann Teo. has been doing magnificent work. Years ago, I urged members of this House to go down and see what the Sugar Company were doing on the bogs in Galway. I would urge others, as well as members of the House, to do so because the work is quite unbelievable and nothing like sufficient is known about it. I feel that more profitable utilisation of our peat resources is possible than using them as a source of power. Investment could be made in great areas of our bogs which would have far-reaching effects, particularly in the province of Connacht.

I will not go into this aspect of the question any further to-day except to say this: if we are to burn our bogs, reclaim our bogs, drain them or rehabilitate them, I would prefer to see, as I have urged previously, the establishment by the Minister of something like a soil utilisation authority that would investigate the possibility of utilising our peat resources in the many ways in which they may be utilised to-day. Above all, I am convinced that it would be from the national point of view a much more profitable enterprise to put capital into their drainage and the reconstruction of the peat, to translate them into soil from which animals could be fed, trees could be produced, and on which homes could be built, than what we have been doing for many years.

We have pursued a policy here of attempting to make the people of Connacht build homes in Leinster. We have invested a very considerable sum of money in breaking up farms, dividing land, building new homes in Leinster, but I believe that if we had an authority here co-ordinating the knowledge and information available to us and making a new study and a new approach to the utilisation of our peat bogs, we could establish [38] thousands of new homes in the province of Connacht in the natural habitat of many of those people who to-day have far too little from which they can derive a living.

What I want to urge on the Minister at this stage is that, while we support him in this Bill, we ought to be wise in our generation and, now that we have proven what we can do with our bogs and are strong in the conviction that we have the competence to utilise and exploit them, we can sit back and study whether the present policy which we are pursuing is the wisest policy from the point of view of developing our national sources of power, and the wisest from the point of view of building homes for our people. Now that, as I have said, we have established the fact that we have enough of the pioneering spirit and faith in ourselves to go on with an enterprise like this, and that our people have faith in themselves and in the future, to the extent that we have invested many millions and people like Arthur Guinness and Co. also have faith in the value of this enterprise, that in itself should give us the confidence to study the situation anew.

I am raising this issue at this stage because I think the time has come now for us to look into the future. Perhaps on another occasion we may have an opportunity of going at greater length into all the implications of the policy which we have pursued now for 11 years, which has been a great adventure that redounds to the credit of the Minister and of the people associated with the development of Bord na Móna; but before we born too much of the face of Ireland away, we ought to study anew whether it is the wisest policy for us to pursue. While there is no alternative, and while the funds are required and the Oireachtas must be prepared to give the Minister the authority, the fact that the Minister gets authority puts also on him an obligation to look at the picture anew and, looking into the future, to see whether or not there is any justification for an alteration of a scheme which he initiated originally, which a great many people had not faith in but which has done a great deal to prove [39] that, in attempting what seemed to be the impossible, the people of this country had and still have the competence to make a success of an undertaking when they go out with the pioneering spirit which was demonstrated in the achievements under Bord na Móna.

Dr. Sheehy Skeffington: I hesitate to intervene again. I was hoping that perhaps some other Senators might come in before me; but, since there do not appear to be, there are some things I should like to say in support of this Bill, and in support of much that has been said by the Minister and also by Senator Baxter. The Minister reviewed fairly fully and, I think, wisely the various developments which have led up to this Bill, apart entirely from the immediate implications of the Bill itself. He referred to the fact that there was a time when in this country we regarded turf development as being largely a question of producing sod turf, but that it was “later on decided”, and obviously rightly, that we should produce milled turf for the production of electricity.

He mentioned, without actually emphasising it, this change of emphasis, as it were, in the development of the bogs. He also touched upon the question of the E.S.B. programme, and of the revision of their plans, which led to a certain amount of debate in the Dáil and to the necessary, perhaps, but rather regrettable reduction of the estimate of power required, and consequently the reduction of the programme of the E.S.B. The Minister obviously has been disappointed, and we should all be disappointed, that the demand for electrical power has not been sustained, or, I should say, rather, the rate of increase in demand has not been sustained.

I think the Minister is right when he suggests that perhaps there has been a momentary lull, but that the rate of increase of demand will get bigger perhaps in a fairly short time. In connection with that, there is one point I would ask him to give his opinion about. That is whether possibly the [40] fairly considerable increases in the price of this commodity, electrical power, might have had a momentary effect, at any rate, on the rate of increase of demand? I think that electrical power, particularly electrical power derived from our own resources, turf, is such a fundamental need for the country as a whole—for the rural community and the industrial community—that it would be worth our while keeping it even slightly artificially cheap in order that it might produce the various benefits which obviously it can produce for both town and country.

In touching on the development of the production of turf in this country, both the Minister and Senator Baxter had a look at the past, and recognised that there was a time when people would hardly believe that we could do what has in fact been done. It is also worth recalling here that the First Dáil set up a commission which introduced a report in December, 1921, its first report, which recommended (a) that the State should acquire all the larger bogs, giving due compensation at the market bog-price rates to the owners, and (b) that an electrical power station producing at least 20,000 K.W. should be set up experimentally for the purpose of burning turf and producing electricity. I think it is worth mentioning in this House, in relation to the whole question of turf development, that as far back as December, 1921, it was suggested that a 20,000 K.W. power station should be set up to produce electricity from turf.

I do not pretend to know much about the technique of the production and transmission of electricity, but I understand that that constituted a highly imaginative proposal in 1921, a 20,000 kilowatt station, which in terms of modern transmission technique could be the equivalent to-day of at least a 100,000 kilowatt station. That was then a bold suggestion, and when we pay tribute to the things which have been done I think we would be disingenuous to forget the regrettable fact that no action was taken on the proposal of this commission of the First Dáil. The commission brought in its report [41] in December, 1921. No action was taken on the production of electricity from turf, despite the immense efforts of such pioneers as the late Professor Hugh Ryan of University College, Dublin, the late Sir John Purser Griffith and Mr. Robert Tweedy, who is still with us, I am glad to say. Despite the fact that we had a new Government in 1922, which was in power for ten years, no action was taken on the production of electricity from turf. In 1932 we got another Government which for eight years up to the war did nothing on that matter, despite this imaginative report and proposal put forward as far back as 1921.

It is true that some of the pioneers were all that time plugging away at the Government, at both Governments, at those in power, those who were very hesitant to see any imaginative future in the development of electricity from turf—plugging away nevertheless to such an extent that in 1935 a three-man delegation was actually sent to the Continent to see what could, in fact, be done about the production of electricity from turf. They went principally, if I remember correctly, to Germany and Russia. They came back and reported, but the report was never published. No action was taken. It was at that period that the man I mentioned, Mr. Robert Tweedy, went himself and accompanied this delegation at his own expense, and saw all that they saw. He came back and did make public his findings. In November, 1935 he read a paper to the Engineering and Scientific Association of Ireland on the possibilities of producing electricity from turf. If I might quote the Irish Press of November 12th, 1935, there was a big heading saying: “Plan to Develop the Bogs—30,000 May be Sited in New Towns—Power and Fuel Board”. According to that Press report, Mr. Tweedy said:

“I am convinced that to postpone any longer the launching of a massed attack upon our bog fuel is not only unwarranted on any conceivable count, but it is politically unsound, economically disastrous and socially criminal.”

[42] That was the view put forward in 1935 by Mr. Robert Tweedy, and not only by Mr. Tweedy but by many of the other pioneers, some of whom I have mentioned—an imaginative plan and a factual plan, which referred not only to the turf development but to the necessary buildings—as has been done since, admirably by Bord na Móna—of towns and villages and little communities near the turf development areas.

The point being made in this paper to the Engineering Society in 1935, then, was that it was not for the directors of the E.S.B. to plan the development of turf. Perhaps I might quote the paper itself:—

“I do not blame the directors or the engineers of the E.S.B. Their job is to generate and distribute electricity in whatever they calculate to be the cheapest way. They do their job well within the limitations beyond which they cannot go.”

The point being made was that what we required in this country was a power and fuel board, a co-ordinating authority, which would make it impossible for one body to act without being geared, as it were, to the other, which would make it impossible for a sugar company, for instance, to install power stations with “burners designed to burn imported fuel”—perfectly efficient ones, but out of accordance with the sort of national planning which one could expect.

I refer to this highly illuminating and factual as well as imaginative paper in 1935, but alas 1935, 1936, 1937, 1938 and 1939 passed and nothing was done from the point of view of deriving electricity from turf. Anyone like Mr. Tweedy was referred to as a kind of maniac with a bee in his bonnet about turf, much in the same way as the late Mr. J. Mackay was referred to as “the man with a bee in his bonnet about forestry.” To-day, in 1957, we are beginning to discover that it is those people, who were regarded in their time as “crazy idealists”, who had in fact their feet on the ground; and the so-called “realists” of the time, the people who were afraid to proceed on [43] imaginative lines, were in fact the people who had their heads in the clouds.

In 1939 the war came, and we suddenly “discovered” that it might be difficult for us to buy coal and oil, and, with that discovery, it was suddenly thought that perhaps there might be something in this suggestion that we could make electricity from turf. But alas when the Government— at last and most belatedly—set about trying to get machinery and plant, they found it extremely difficult to get it. I recall at that time that the Labour Party—goaded, I remember, by such men as Mr. Tweedy—put propositions to the Government along those lines, but in fact they were largely unavailing until the war was over. Then, in 1946, when the war was over, Bord na Móna —11 years ago—came into being; and Ireland then “discovered” that it was possible to make electricity from turf— in 1946, a quarter of a century after the First Dáil Commission had strongly recommended the setting up of a 20,000 kilowatt station.

These are matters which we ought to bear in mind and which contain a lesson for us when we face future development, that is, that sometimes it might be as well to listen to the technicians and pioneers with imagination, as well as to those who preach caution. It is for that reason that I find myself on the side of the Minister when he ventures to hope that the demand for electrical power will increase and increase rapidly in this country, if it is carefully guided and encouraged.

Big development, of course, has taken place and we should certainly salute it, as Senator Baxter has done, under the guidance of Bord na Móna since its inception, however belatedly, in 1946. The Minister to-day admitted —I thought, slightly oddly, perhaps— that the power stations at Allenwood and other places had proved quite a lot more efficient than was anticipated or expected—almost as if we approached this whole question with the feeling that it really would not work after all, and we suddenly find it [44] does work—and not merely are these stations more efficient than we thought, but they are actually crying out for more fuel, and in fact that Bord na Móna is more efficient than we thought—and gradually, to the Minister's expressed surprise, they are actually paying their debts. We find that odd! We have, of course, examples of companies which consistently fail to live up to the hopes we placed in them—and so perhaps the Minister feels it just as well to be on the cautious side. But here we can recognise that Bord na Móna itself, and these individual stations, are making very real progress.

I think it is a pity, then, that the names of the pioneers, the sort of men I have mentioned, should be forgotten, should never be mentioned in public, or very rarely, when a new station is being opened or when a new settlement is being built, and so on; because the true pioneers are not the men of 1946, but the men of 1921 and afterwards, and the facts are there for anyone who cares to study them.

Senator Baxter referred—and rightly —to the pioneering spirit, but he spoiled his reference by saying “11 years ago” as if he himself had been asleep for the quarter of a century between 1921 and 1946.

I think that in failing to recognise and pay tribute to such men we are being ungenerous, and perhaps a bit short-sighted. Let us, therefore, belatedly, perhaps, but not too late, by means of such a Bill as this allowing Bord na Móna to borrow its own money in the open market, now allow our only native sources of power to be developed, and in doing so at least say a word of thanks to those who have been hammering away at us, and at the politicians in power of both Parties for long years, in order to get the sort of thing brought about, that we are now rather pleased to see functioning and paying its own way.

I believe—and I think all of us now believe—that we should use our own fuel for power to a maximum extent, and use to a minimum extent imported coal and imported oil. We did not [45] really need the Suez crisis to teach us that the price of oil could fluctuate. It would on this occasion be departing too far to refer to the many sorts of conditions which operate when it comes to deciding the price of oil. We should not have to depend to such a big extent upon imported fuel. We discovered that the hard way, and the present Minister discovered it in 1939 and 1940. Let us, for goodness' sake, now realise that the more we use our own fuel for power, the better it will be for us now and in the future.

I should like to draw a parallel between the protection that we offer to home-produce of various kinds to the extent sometimes of putting the price up quite considerably, and the possible protection that our native sources of fuel may require, in the sense that even if we had to pay just a little bit more for electricity by insisting that it be produced from turf, it would be worth while. That is a contention I do not concede, but even if we had to pay a higher price, it might be better for the production of this raw material of power, for us, as a nation, to pay that slightly higher price because of two other factors. One was a factor which, I think, was not quite fairly referred to by Senator Baxter, and that is the factor of the liberation of the land.

Once it is, as it were, freed of its overlayer of 18 feet of turf, or whatever it may be, I think I am right in saying—and I speak subject to correction—the land can, by modern technical methods, be brought into quite good agricultural production rapidly. Therefore, that is a secondary reason why we have an interest in developing the use of our own sources of power now.

The third reason—and I think it was mentioned by others—is the giving of immediate employment. I will not develop that point. It is self-evident. Employment in our own country for the development of power is clearly a matter of great import to us. I think it would be cheap power, but even if it were not necessarily as cheap as all that it would provide for the liberation of our land by the using of the turf which is at present lying there.

[46] Senator Baxter rightly referred to the possibility of new sources of power, and said we ought to consider these before we start investing fresh capital in the development of electricity from turf. I think the second portion of what he said was fallacious because what we must in fact do—and I think the Minister will agree with me—is to use up as much as possible and as rapidly as we can this source of power in turf which is now cluttering up so much of the face of Ireland before it becomes more economic for power to be produced from other sources. In other words, it is only for the next 15 years or so that it will be economically possible for us to clear our land of turf in this way, and clear it economically.

If we are too hesitant now to encourage that type of development, I think we should be making a major mistake, and for that reason I would reject the point made by Senator Baxter just now. I would deplore any tendency in any political Party to hesitate or show lack of faith in our own resources for the production of power. I do not think we should be “surprised”, when Bord na Móna honours its obligations or when the electricity producing stations produce rather more than was anticipated. Senator Baxter indicated that he has not got quite such an enthusiastic confidence in the Minister as he had 11 years ago.

Mr. Baxter: He did not indicate anything of the kind.

Dr. Sheehy Skeffington: I am afraid I am misinterpreting the Senator. Senator Baxter indicated, then, that he regrets he cannot at the present moment salute so enthusiastically the case made by the Minister to-day, because he feels the Minister has lost a certain amount of his punch and drive. I would agree with Senator Baxter that what we want on this matter is not hesitancy or lack of faith but real enthusiasm and real drive. Therefore, I would disagree with Senator Baxter when he suggests that we should not invest fresh capital in such enterprises and I am very strongly in favour, therefore, of this Turf Development Bill, because I believe [47] most emphatically that we must by such means as this encourage the production of power, which is a basic essential to all our industry and all our rural community, and which will bring with it the by-products, as it were, of immediate large-scale employment at decent rates of wages, and also the clearance and transformation of the bogland, which in the future can immensely benefit this country.

Mr. Burke: Like the previous speakers, I wish to welcome this Bill which is a Bill to deal further with our national resources. Before I proceed to make some points for the observation of the Minister, I should like to say that I believe Senator Sheehy Skeffington missed entirely the point made by Senator Baxter. Reclaimed bogs would be available for the growing of crops, particularly grain crops which require a great deal of humus. I should imagine that the removed bog would be very unsuitable for the growing of the type of crop which Senator Baxter envisages.

It was estimated that there was an annual increase in consumption of electricity of 15 per cent. per annum. Speaking in the other House on 1st May last, the Minister said his estimate then was 7 per cent. for 1956. I understood him to say here to-day that the figure is now estimated at 8 per cent. That appears to be rather near the figure which was estimated about 1954 by O.E.E.C. for Europe—9 per cent. I think the Minister and the former Minister were right in reducing the estimated increase because capital is one of the things which is most short in this country. How our capital is spent and what sort of return we get from it will in a large measure determine our future prosperity.

In a recent report, it was recommended that £11,000,000 of C.I.E. investment be written off. None of us wants to see money invested in turf development or electricity development which will have to be written off. We will have to invest the savings of our people wisely. The Government, the Opposition and everyone in public life will have to see that those savings [48] are well and properly invested and that we get a good return from these investments.

I should like to see appended to the annual E.S.B. report comparable costings charged for power, light and heat, for industrial, commercial and private purposes in America and in European countries. We do see some lovely reports from various public companies, but we do not get a measure of the comparable efficiency of their counterparts in other countries. We are told that it is desirable to develop our country industrially and one of the things which will contribute much to that is an abundant supply of power at the lowest possible rates. We will have to save in regard to transport of goods over long distances, and, if we can get our power costs down to a cheaper rate than other countries, it will help us to export.

I should like to mention for the Minister's consideration the efficient use of fuel, both home-produced and imported. I understand that there is a private Bill going through the British House of Commons, the provisions of which, if passed, will make it an offence to use inefficient steam boilers, inefficient steam generators or any such mechanical apparatus for converting fuel into heat. Britain has an abundance of coal and she has facilities for importing coal and if the members of her Parliament consider it necessary to avoid waste fuel consumption, we must look to it also. We are not so well blessed by nature as Britain in the matter of fuel supplies. It is a matter which the Minister could consider.

As managing director of a factory, I was able to make a saving of 33⅓ per cent. through the installation of efficient methods. That was very beneficial to our factory, but I believe that an enormous development can take place in our national economy through the saving of fuel. I was told recently that there is £25,000,000 worth of fuel used in this country and I believe that with proper usage of fuel much of that could be saved. A great deal of that money is spent on imported fuel for which we have to get currency. Several Senators have already mentioned Suez. [49] If such a saving could be made in fuel consumption, we could overcome the difficulties caused by the Suez incident.

In welcoming the Bill, I note that the Minister is keeping well inside the £14,000,000 which he estimates as the maximum amount required up to 1960 and is still keeping something in hand, should he require it.

Mr. Lemass: I am sorry Senator Baxter thinks I have lost my vigour and my punch. Perhaps I need the stimulus of opposition to invoke them. I was not anticipating opposition——

Mr. Baxter: There is no opposition.

Mr. Lemass: I should like to deal with the points raised by him but some of them are important and might perhaps take me too far afield. I do not think it is possible to do anything more to assess our future power requirements than is being done. In 1954, the assessment was made on the basis of experience up to that time and I do not know of any other basis on which it could have been made. Certainly, at that time, we had not anticipated any falling off in industrial development or change, which would have made it possible to decide that a lower rate of development was likely to suffice and to have justified a decision to cut down the power development programme to that extent.

Others may argue that the 1956 experience is the basis for plans we have to make for the future. I hope it is not. I certainly would like to plan on a more optimistic assumption and I would take the risk of creating excess capacity than of having major industrial development held up in two or three years' time because of insufficient power to meet its needs. There must always be surplus capacity within the E.S.B. to meet any increase in the demand for power for any industrial development which may require it.

I am fairly conscious of the fact, and I am sure every Senator is, that we are now on the threshold of a new age following on the adaptation of atomic energy to power purposes. This opens up immense prospects of many kinds and it is obvious that we must consider [50] very carefully any decisions we make at this stage, because we do not want to find ourselves held up in the future as a consequence of any wrong decision now. There is, of course, as a Senator mentioned, a committee set up to report on the peaceful uses of atomic energy. I do not think that committee is likely to affect our decisions now.

On the available information, it is known that the production of electricity through atomic energy is far more expensive than any of the methods which we use here. We have not in this country the urgent necessity of developing the technique of electricity generation through atomic energy as is the case in Britain. We are not the producers of atomic energy plants for sale around the world. That justified America and Britain and other countries in proceeding with power stations and with work on atomic energy, even though the cost of that energy will be a great deal higher than from coal or other fuel burning stations. They had the desire to get early into the market for the supplying of equipment for such stations. That circumstance does not arise here and we can afford to wait until atomic energy is cheaper than other forms of energy.

There is no reason for not investing capital in other types of power stations now, whether based on milled peat from the bogs, or any other kind of fuel. In Britain, they are not establishing atomic energy stations for the purposes of closing down any existing stations. They are stations established to take on the increase in demand and all other stations are kept in use and will remain in use for the whole of their useful lives. So far as we are concerned, if and when atomic power can be utilised for power generation in this country, it will be as a supplement to existing stations which will still be kept in use.

I do not know either that there is much in the point that there is a possible alternative use for bogs which should discourage our considering the extension of development for power purposes. I was as impressed as Senator Baxter by what was done at Gowla Bog. I think I described it as possibly one of the most important [51] things that had happened in this country for many years. I have been examining it since and considering what lessons we can learn from it which can be applied for national development purposes. Subsequently, as the Senator knows, an attempt was made to repeat that development on a different type of bog in North Mayo. There, however, the aim was to reclaim bogland to produce grass for conversion into grassmeal.

I think a mistake was made in stopping that development. However, it is obvious that the extent to which you could convert the bog to the production of grassmeal is extremely limited: it would be limited by the demand for and the export possibilities of the product. Nevertheless, enough was done there to show that techniques are now developing which open up the prospect of converting all that area of blanket bog in the West of Ireland to productive uses.

So far as the deep midland Bord na Móna bogs are concerned, I think it is far wiser to consider getting the turf off them when it can be done without cost by converting it into fuel rather than contemplating some very expensive reclamation process. As Senator Sheehy Skeffington mentioned, there is an element of urgency in that situation. We want to get the turf off the bogs in the form of fuel fed into the power stations before the technique of utilising atomic energy has reached the point where it would obviously be impossible for us to consider the establishment of any other type of station, except one based on atomic energy. I think that stage will come and that, within 15 or 20 years, we shall have no alternative, if we want to keep our economy competitive, but to utilise atomic energy. Before that, however, I want to see the process of getting rid of the deep midland bogs completed through the development of Bord na Móna's activities. That would be a further argument, as I see it, which would justify our pushing ahead some of the power stations on the board's programme based upon turf a little earlier than the calculation of power requirements might appear to justify.

[52] It is true, as Senator Sheehy Skeffington said, that the emphasis is now on milled peat. One gets far more trouble than consolation in public life and the success which appears to have attended this milled peat development is one of the consolations I have had. I was personally converted to the practicability of the utilisation of milled peat on a large scale for the generation of power before the E.S.B. Indeed, I took upon myself part of the process of converting the board to it. Now that the first station has been worked for a season on milled peat, I have been very glad to learn that the fuel cost of producing power at that station is substantially lower than the cost of producing power by utilising any other type of fuel whatever. That was, as I said, one of the consolations which one occasionally gets in public life to compensate for all the headaches.

I do not think it is true to say that the fall-off in the demand for power last year was attributable to the increase in price. The fall-off in demand began before the increase in price. I do not believe it is practicable for us in our circumstances to contemplate any method of selling fuel at an artificially low price involving a subsidy to be made good by somebody. It is also desirable to avoid loading the price of power with uneconomic charges. I do not want to open up a new field of controversy now, but one of the problems during the war, when planning for post-war developments— developments which included the rural electrification scheme—was the realisation that rural electrification was bound to be uneconomic. We decided then we would not attempt to load the cost of power supplied for industrial purposes with the uneconomic element in rural electrification, but rather that that uneconomic element should be carried by Government subsidy.

That has been changed now. One of the effects at the present time is to involve a substantial charge on the board's revenue to meet the loss on rural electrification which runs to about £2,000 per year per area. As there are some 250 areas yet to be developed, it will be appreciated that [53] it will be an increasing loss. I do not hold out the slightest prospect that the subsidy for rural electrification will be restored. I imagine that in present circumstances my chances of persuading the Minister for Finance to do that are almost nil.

It will be recognised that Bord na Móna has now to carry on its revenue the uneconomic cost inevitably involved in the completion of the rural electrification scheme. There is, therefore, a slight tendency on the board's part to drag its feet on that scheme. They picked the most economic areas first —areas in which the loss would be least. They are now coming to the areas where the loss is the greatest. I have had to remind them that we are under an obligation to complete that scheme within reasonable time. I am assured it will be completed by 1961. Every area, even the most uneconomic area in the country, will by that time have the network extended to it. At that stage, there will, perhaps, be £1,000,000 a year in the board's expenditure representing the loss in maintaining the supply to these rural consumers. Notwithstanding that, I think it is true that the cost of power for industrial purposes in this country is not out of line with that of other European countries. Of course, exceptions must be made in the cases of Sweden and Switzerland where they have water power at a very low cost. Taking, however, the normal development of power generation in countries that have to utilise solid fuel to as large an extent as ourselves, I think our industries are under no great handicap on that account.

It is true to say—I could not dispute it—that we should have started earlier on the process of developing our bogs for power purposes. Something will be done this year that will be worth doing and then we will find somebody asking us why we did not do it ten years ago. It is perhaps easy now to forget the difficulties and problems that arose at that time. There were doubts as to the practicability of mechanising sod peat production and [54] there were grave doubts about milled peat production. It was first undertaken in this country by a private company with which the Bank of Ireland was associated. Shortly after they commenced operations on the Lullymore bog, the enormous machines they had brought into the bog sank and disappeared out of sight. The company went bankrupt and Bord na Móna bought it.

They then started redesigning the equipment so as to avoid the difficulties which the original company had to face. There are still some problems associated with the mechanical production of sod peat which have not yet been solved. I would agree fully that there is no limit to the tribute due to the technical officers of Bord na Móna for the skill, ingenuity and enthusiasm they displayed in solving the problems of mechanising turf production and thereby making it an economic proposition.

Dr. Sheehy Skeffington: And also some pioneers who were never in Bord na Móna.

Mr. Lemass: Yes, indeed. If I read the roll of honour, it would be considerably longer than that which Senator Sheehy Skeffington gave us. I do not know if there is anything else I could say at this stage arising out of the discussion which would add to the Seanad's knowledge of the programme. There will be coming along in a few months' time a Bill relating to the E.S.B. I hope by that time we will have completed the examinations now going on so that we can give more precise information as to what may be possible, both in regard to the programme of the E.S.B. and the programme of Bord na Móna which, of course, is inevitably linked up with it.

Question put and agreed to.

Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 29th May, 1957.

The Seanad adjourned at 5.45 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 29th May, 1957.