HL Deb 27 June 1879 vol 247 cc831-4

rose to call the attention of Her Majesty's Government to the Inland Navigation of Ireland (Limerick to Belfast), and to the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Board of Works, Ireland, so far as it affected that system. The inland navigation of Ireland was one of the utmost importance to the development and to the prosperity of the trade of that country. Last year, a Committee of the House of Commons inquired into the constitution of the Irish Board of Works; and one of the subjects to which the attention of that Committee was directed was that of the inland navigation of Ireland and its financial condition, and how far it was available to traffic. The system might be said to be divided into five sections, of which he proposed to refer to two—namely, the Ulster and the Ballinamore Canals. The Ulster Canal came into the possession of the Board of Works in 1865. After much discussion the Board determined to improve the navigation, and for this purpose they obtained a grant from the Government of £17,000; but, although this sum and more was spent upon it, matters were as bad as they were before. The principal defects were, an insufficient supply of water, and a great amount of leakage, by which the water in the canal was constantly drained away. One of the questions which came before the Committee was that of the insufficiency of water. This point was brought more particularly under their notice, by reason of a meeting of canal owners, carriers, &c., who passed a resolution declaring that the want of a sufficient supply of water in the Ulster Canal prevented the regular course of traffic along its line. That being brought before the Government, they could either take it in hand themselves or appoint a Committee to inquire into the subject. The question of the insufficiency of water was gone into before the Committee; and the Commissioner of Public Works, in examination, maintained that the water was sufficient for the amount of existing traffic; while, in answer to the questions, he stated that traffic was almost nil. At the time the resolution was passed at the meeting he had referred to it was summer, and the water was very low, and the reply did not come from the Board of Works until the winter. Six months afterwards when, owing to the rains, there was more water in the canal, the reply was to the effect that there was sufficient water in the canal. It was stated in evidence before the Committee that there was no complaint of the depth of the water, and that in face of the meetings held to protest against it. He contended that the development of the traffic along the canals would tend greatly to reduce the price charged for carriage along the railway lines of Ireland. There were many instances where canals were running in direct competition with the Railway Companies. If the canals were put into a proper condition, he had no doubt it would prove remunerative, and would contribute very much to the advantage and prosperity of the whole of Ireland. The Ballinamore Canal was in a peculiar position, because it was a junction canal, and joined the northern navigation with the Shannon. The repair of those canals was the cheapest way of opening up the country and developing trade, for the canal could be put in working order for about £8,000 at the outside. The Ballinamore Canal was formerly in the hands of the trustees of the four counties through which it passed; but it was subsequently handed over to the Board of Works, and at that time one of the Commissioners stated that his future policy in regard to the canal would be to "wait and see." He could not conceive a more disastrous or unbusiness-like policy, and trusted the Government would take up and decide this very important question.


said, the history of that question was one of those matters which had gained for the Irish Board of Works the character of being the most inefficient and unpopular public body in Ireland. There had been great waste in the construction of the canals, for the estimate was £132,000, while the cost incurred was £228,652. This excess arose from the fact that, instead of putting the work to contract, day-labourers were employed without proper supervision, with the result of completely demoralizing labour. One bridge which had cost £1,100, he had been credibly informed could be built as well for £300. So much for the past. As regarded the future, he was not sanguine enough to believe that any return for many years could be expected on the past outlay; but he saw no reason why such a moderate outlay as that suggested by his noble Friend for the purpose of opening the entire length of the canal from Belfast to the Shannon should not do more than cover the costs of maintenance. However, the indirect return in the shape of developing the resources of the country was the legitimate view to take of the question. The turnpike trusts failed to give a good return to those who advanced their money; but the country through which they passed were benefited to an inestimable extent, and this case of the canals might be considered parallel. Under such circumstances, he hoped the Government would take up and deal with the matter.


said, he could not be expected to follow the noble Lord into all the details of the matter which he had referred to, nor should he enter into a discussion on the merits or the demerits of the conduct of the Irish Board of Works. He quite admitted that the question raised by his noble Friend was one of the greatest importance in connection with the opening up of that portion of the country with which he was connected. His noble Friend seemed to take a much more sanguine view of the relations of railways and canals in Ireland than was taken by the Committee who sat on the subject, because they said that the competition by canals was so small that it was scarcely appreciable. On the other hand, there was a direct argument against the canal navigation. They said that there was the indisputable fact that whatever might be the cost the enormous outlay already made on them had hither to produced little or no result—they had proved nothing but a complete failure; while the navigation had a deleterious effect on the drainage of the country by forcing it beyond its proper level. It seemed to him that if this matter was to be dealt with in a manner to be to the advantage of the public it should be dealt with as one complete and regular system of through traffic. To put a portion of the navigation in a perfect state while another part was in the condition described would be of no use. His noble Friend suggested that the Government should take up the matter and put the whole of the navigation into a complete state—that they should lay out whatever sum of money was necessary for that purpose, and so carry on the work which had hitherto been done partly by trustees and partly by the Board of Works, and which at present had led to unsatisfactory results; or else that the Government should inquire into the matter and see whether anything could be done to improve the present system of navigation. Without going into minute details, he would say that it was quite obvious that it must be shown to the Committee that the system could be put into a proper state for a sum which might be considered reasonable; and they would also have to ascertain whether, if put into that condition, there would be any reasonable prospect of its being not only a paying concern, but also that it would be a benefit to the district. What he had to say was, that the Government had in contemplation the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the subject. He hoped the Committee might be able to report that the restoration of the canal referred to would be likely to produce the effect which his noble Friend had suggested, and whether it would be possible to put it in that condition with any reasonable hope of success. He trusted the answer would be satisfactory to his noble Friend.