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Shannon Improvements

Volume 63: debated on Tuesday 10 May 1842

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stated, that at that very late hour he should content himself by putting the House in possession of the circumstances under which he sought the information relative to the improvements of the Shannon he was about to move for. The commissioners were about to levy off the county he had the honour to represent a sum of about 100.000l. for works that county had never sanctioned, and for an expenditure over which they had no control. By their applotment of this sum, to which there was no power of objecting, the land adjoining the river, which may be relieved from floods, and the value of which may be doubled, is charged say 1l. per acre, whilst the land twelve or fourteen miles from the river, the traffic from which is to a seaport in an opposite direction, was to be charged 19s. 8d. per acre—proportions neither equitable nor just. The tolls which were, by an act of Parliament, made applicable to meet the expenses of the improvement of the river, were no longer to be so, and the sum to be supplied by them was to be defrayed by the counties—who, under such circumstances, were at least entitled to the fullest information of the principle under which they were to be taxed. The hon. Member moved for the following returns:—

" Return, showing the principle upon which the commissioners for the improvement of the Shannon have proceeded in estimating the benefit anticipated to result to the several baronies in the county of Roscommon, from the improvement of that river and its tributaries, and what proportion of benefit is anticipated to result to the barony of Athlone, which lies along the banks of the said river, as compared with the proportion of benefit anticipated to result to the barony of Bally-more, which is at a distance from it.
" Also, a like return in respect of the barony of Boyle, as compared with the barony of Frenchpark, and of the barony of Roscommon, as compared with the barony of Castlerea, which are similarly situated.
" Return of the proportions of the sum of 10,894l. l1s. 2s., levied on the county of Roscommon for the improvement of the navigation of the river Shannon, payable by each of the following baronies, viz., Athlone, Ballymore, Boyle, Frenchpark, Roscommon, and Castlerea, distinguishing the amount per hundred acres in each of these baronies, respectively.
" Also, return of the works, if any, which have been executed in the county of Roscommon by the direction of the commissioners for the improvement of the river Shannon since their appointment, and the proportion of the sum of 10,894l. lls. 2d.,already levied on that county expended in such works."

bad hitherto consented to the production of all papers moved for relating to the Shannon navigation, and exceedingly regretted he could not consent to give those now sought for by the hon. Member for Roscommon. The commissioners for the improvement of the river Shannon were governed by rules laid down in an act of Parliament, by which they were bound to adhere; and it appeared to him that granting the returns sought for would not only imply that blame could be attached to the commissioners by whom the awards were decided on—a commission no longer in existence —but that it would tend very much to weaken confidence in securities given in Ireland for the advances of public money. That part of the returns which could be obtained from the treasurer of the county of Roscommon, and which related to the proportion of the applotment on the different baronies, he should not object to.

fully concurred with the noble Secretary in the inexpediency of granting the motion then before the House. The proportion of seventy-five— one settled on the county of Roscommon— was, in his opinion, if anything, too small. The advantages derivable from opening the river were incalculable, and Roscommon and Limerick were the counties which would derive most advantage from the improvement. The principle on which the commissioners acted would be found in the Library of the House, in their different reports, and appeared both just and reasonable. The motion implied distrust of the commissioners, who were, he considered, entitled to the utmost confidence. The noble Lord referred, at some length, to the different calculations of the commissioners, to show the length of navigation and other advantages which were to accrue to the county of Roscommon from the improvement of the river and its tributaries.

wished to know on what principle the county of Sligo, which was separated from the Shannon by the Curlew mountains, and which never could derive the slightest advantage from the improvement of that river, was to be taxed 5,000l. by these commissioners. He supported the motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Roscommon.

in reply, should not detain the House by referring to anything which fell from the noble Lord, the Member for Leitrim. His speech had no reference whatever to the two points before the House. If, as the noble Lord stated, Roscommon was not charged sufficiently, the commissioners had not faithfully discharged the duty entrusted to them; but he was, if necessary, prepared to prove that that county had been much overrated. The first point contended for was, that it was proposed, in violation of a pledge given by both Houses of Parliament, to deprive the counties bounding the river of the assistance of the tolls in defraying the instalments for its improvement. The navigation of the Shannon, from time immemorial, was vested in the Crown, for whose use the tolls were annually received. Various improvements were, from time to time, made in its navigation, such as removing accidental obstructions, forming lateral canals to avoid the vessels—all of which were executed at the public expense. As the powers of steam were developed, it was considered most desirable that improvements on an extended scale should be effected, so that vessels of a certain size might ascend from Limerick to Lough Allen. Plans, surveys, and estimates were prepared by Mr. Grantham, Mr. Rhodes, and others, at the public expense; commissioners reported, and a committee of this House was appointed to inquire into the state of the river; all concurred in declaring the proposed improvements to be both desirable and necessary—" a national work, to be executed by national means." In 1835 the then Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Spring Rice) introduced the bill, which was now the 5th and 6th William 4th, chap. 67, by which, contrary to the recommendations of every party—contrary, he contended, to every principle of justice and policy—it was enacted that the improvement of a river the property of the Crown should not be effected at the public expense. The sum required. was 600,000l., one moiety of which was to be a free grant: so it was ridiculously termed in the act. The other moiety (300,000l..) to be repaid by twelve half-yearly instalments out of the tolls; should those tolls prove insufficient, the deficit to be made good by the counties and districts adjoining. Taking into consideration that of this sum of 300,000s., repayable from the tolls, 50,000s. was to be defrayed by the sale of mill-sites and other properties, to be vested in the commissioners—that the value of the fisheries must be considerable, and that the amount of toll on 230 miles of navigation could not be trifling (the commissioners afterwards estimated them at upwards of 30,000l. a year), 20,000l. of which, at the least, might be appropriated towards the payment of the instalments—he considered the liabilities to which the counties were subjected trifling, if any; and he did not feel himself justified in doing more than entering his protest against the principle of declaring those districts liable to any portion of the payment for works to be executed on the property of the Crown, and from the improvement of which the public would derive important advantages The commissioners were appointed under this act solely to inquire and determine the proportion to be borne by the several counties and districts, should the surplus tolls not prove adequate to pay the required instalments. This they were full) aware of; in their second report they recite the preamble of the 5th and 6th of William 4th; twice they admit themselves to be bound by it, but they do not adhere to it. They think differently from Parliament, and it appears theirs are the views to be carried into operation. Under the 13th and 44th sections of the 2nd and 3rd of Victoria, c. 61, in which no mention is made of the tolls, the moiety of the sum is to be duly levied off the counties. No credit is to be given for the tolls which are to continue public property, and to be appropriated as Parliament shall direct. Under this plan about 100,000l. is to be levied off Roscommon, 50,000l., off Lei-trim, 50,000l. off Galway by compulsory presentments. So doing was, he contended, as far as the counties were concerned, a breach of public faith. The commissioners state that, from the perfecting of the Shannon navigation under the system already approved of, the public will be amply remunerated for the advance of the funds required for the works by the great increase of internal traffic which must follow their completion; and in determining the proportions to be contributed by the districts, should the tolls prove inadequate, the very nature of the improvements will manifestly lead to an increased value of the neighbouring properties, and that in their opinion a considerable portion of the necessary outlay should be provided from private funds or baronial assessment. On this principle they have acted in respect of piers—on this principle they professed they were about to act with regard to other improvements. They prepared a table to show how their assessments were to be made:—

Counties to be assessed.Baronies to be assessed.Proportions to be assessed off county at large.Proportions to be assessed off Baronies.
Tipperary Upper and Lr. Ormond22
King's CouutyGarrycastle 11

* Galway

Leitrim and Longford22


Moycarn, Athlone, and Ros common22

*Westmeath and Longford in the same manner.

This was a perfectly intelligible principle; the amount distributed generally over the country at large, particularly over the baronies, to be specially benefitted. The principle on which the commissioners at present act, is perfectly unintelligible: all are to be charged alike. In their second report they justify their proposed levy of a higher rate on the adjoining districts, by the peculiar benefit they derive, and by saying their inhabitants will receive in wages double the amount in which their

districts are assessed, by which the labourers, landholders, and landowners will be mutually benefitted: arguments which can have no reference to the remote districts which they now propose shall bear an equal proportion of the proposed taxation. Notwithstanding the praise bestowed by the noble Lord on public boards, he was still of opinion that it was expedient that their proceedings should be strictly scrutinised. He found, by an account of certain sums entrusted to the commissioners of public works for the relief of the peasantry on the coast of Donegal, in the spring and summer of 1836, that a sum of 300 l. 0 s. 8 d. had been supplied by the Lord-lieutenant and the Ballinglass committee for this purpose; that the expenses incurred by four of their staff in travelling, reporting, and distributing meal absorbed 200 l. 0 s. 8 d. of this sum; under the awards of the Shannon commissioners he found the case of the Limerick navigation, extending a short distance from Limerick to Killaloe, for which that company paid, a few years previous, the sum of 3,000 l. They were limited by their act from dividing more than 10 per cent, on this capital; this dividend they made, but had they discharged their debts they could not have done so. The Shannon commissioners purchased their interest for 6,000 l., a sum double what the company had paid for it, in addition to which they gave them a further sum of 6,227 l. 18 s. 7 d. to pay off their debts and incumbrances, the interest of which ought to have been valued and deducted from their award, in place of being added to it; in addition to this they relieved them from the liability to the repayment of 14,656 l. 13 s. 4 d., due by them to the Board of Works, for money borrowed on the security of the navigation, making in all a sum of 26,884 l. l1 s. l1 d., for a navigation which had been purchased for, and which could not be considered, taking their liabilities into account, worth more than 3,000 l.; half of this enormous sum is to be levied by compulsory presentment off the neighbouring counties. The hon. Member concluded by stating he would content himself by limiting his motion to the return which had been conceded by the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland.

Return ordered.