The problem of canals and inland navigation in Ireland is a minor one, but the same principles largely apply. The Royal Commission recommended that all the chief waterways, canals, and rivers necessary for inland transport should be purchased and remain under the control of the State, the controlling authority, however, not themselves, to become carriers on any waterways. At the same time, they strongly urged that the problem of arterial drainage and relief from floods should not be treated separately, but that the control of drainage works should be under the same central authority as that which is to control waterways and navigation.
It is not necessary to refer in detail to the Report. Apart from the sum necessary to buy out the existing owners of canals and waterways, towards which L2,451,346 had been contributed from private sources, the Commissioners contemplated a further expenditure of about L200,000 on new works. In addition the sum of L500,000 would be required, on a moderate estimate for drainage and the prevention of floods. The pressing nature of the latter problem is once more emphatically evidenced by the wholesale injury to property and the public health by the recent flooding of the basins of the Shannon, Barrow, Bann, and other rivers. Here, again, we have problems which it is idle to expect an Irish Parliament to solve satisfactorily for years to come, or, indeed, ever. Ways and means must be an effectual bar. Drainage and navigation form only one problem out of a dozen facing a Home Rule Government needing the raising of enormous capital. Probably the Commissioners conducting the Canals inquiry, who were persons of all shades of political opinion, were well aware that only under the present system of State credit could the financial difficulties be overcome. According to their report, the State (i.e. the Government of the United Kingdom) were to acquire the control, which was to be carried out by an Act of Parliament, naming the Waterways Commissioners, “who should be persons disassociated from party politics.”
The one dissentient out of twenty-one signatories, Lord Farrer, significantly adds that he does not favour a “charge on the public purse and new Boards of Management until a purely Irish elected authority has agreed to pay for them.” Precisely; Lord Farrer has looked ahead. Will an Irish elected authority agree to pay for these boons, and will they be able to pay? That is a question which will cause some searching of hearts amongst all interested in Ireland’s welfare;—in these pages we have attempted to give an answer.
The conclusion is in fact inevitable. Ireland cannot have it both ways. She cannot have financial independence and financial dependence at the same time. No Colony has ever claimed or been granted these inconsistent conditions. If Colonial precedents are cited, their essential limitations should also be borne in mind. Colonial loans are not charged on the Consolidated Fund. Nor have Colonial railways been nationalised with the money and credit of the United Kingdom, in order to favour local exports at the expense of imports from England.