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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 17 Aug 1921

Vol. S No. 2


When the Ministry was formed at the first full Session of the old Dáil, the appointments included a Minister of Industries, a position which was filled by Mr. MacNeill. At a subsequent Session, when a discussion took place on the fact that Trade and Industrial matters were so closely inter-related that it seemed to be a case of having two Ministers for one Department, Mr. MacNeill stated that it was his intention to leave all Industrial matters to the Department of Trade, and that he had agreed to join the Ministry for political reasons.
Consuls.—Before the virtual amalgamation of the two original offices, I regarded my function as being principally concerned with the promotion of direct trade with countries other than Great Britain. At the Session of Dáil Éireann held in June, 1919, a Decree was passed authorising the expenditure of £10,000 on Consular Services during the ensuing twelve months. A Consul had actually been appointed some time before in the person of Mr. Eamon Bulfin who was deported by the enemy to the Argentine. On his arrival in Buenos Aires, however, Mr. Bulfin soon found himself under arrest on a charge of having evaded military service and was prevented from taking up Consular duties.
The first Consul to act for us, therefore, was stationed in New York. From the beginning it had been felt that a very good man was required for the New York Consulate, where incompetence, absolute or comparative, would not merely have failed to achieve results, but would have seriously injured the prestige of the Republic. It was decided that this important post should be entrusted to Mr. J.L. Fawsitt, whose record as Secretary of the Cork Industrial Development Association left no doubt as to his ability and zeal. Mr. Fawsitt was not able to leave for America till about the middle of September. As a matter of fact nothing was lost by the delay since up to about that period the majority of the war and postwar trade restrictions imposed by the British Government were in force. Very large numbers of commodities could only be imported under licence or in limited quantities. About September, 1919, most of the restrictions which held up the import into Ireland of goods like, say, American boots, were dropped. On the other hand, a great many restrictions on exports were continued for another twelve months, with the result that at a time when a very remunerative market for Irish butter, for example, could have been found on the Continent, British regulations prevented advantage being taken of it.
The New York Consulate was opened just at the precise moment when the need for it became clear, when the last restrictions on the import of American goods into Ireland were abandoned, when the Moore-McCormack service was inaugurated, and when the President in the course of his campaign began to feel the need for the presence of an official having wide knowledge of Irish industrial conditions. Mr. Fawsitt when asked to go to America agreed to do so for a period of six months. He afterwards consented to stay a year, and last autumn at the request of the Ministry he acquiesced in a further prolongation of his term of office. His resignation has now been accepted from the 18th inst. after practically two years' service. During the period that has elapsed since its establishment, the New York Consulate has been a most active centre of commercial and industrial propaganda. Every possible step has been taken to put Irish and American buyers and sellers in touch with each other, to impress upon American firms the business importance of the new spirit in Ireland and the necessity of direct representation in this country, to lay before the Shipping Board and Shipowners all the arguments in favour of a continued and improved direct service between Ireland and America.
Without enumerating a multitude of details, each perhaps of small consequence in itself, it is difficult to give an a lequate idea of the efforts made by the Consulate. A random selection from the matters dealt with may give some idea of the variety of its work:—Allegations by Irish Seamen that they had been refused work by officers on Moore-McCormack vessels because of their nationality were taken up and brought directly to the notice of the principals; powers of attorney for production in Republican Courts validated by the Consul; the practice of listing for statistical purposes as "British" imports of lace, etc., coming from Ireland by parcels post was challenged, and an undertaking secured from the Secretary of the United States Treasury that all such imports would in future be listed as "Irish"; cured fish from Ireland alleged to have arrived in America in a damaged condition was inspected by the Consul, found to be all right, and the importer obliged to pay in full; the Irish Industrial Development Association (Incorporated) was informed by the Consulate of the attempt on the part of a certain group of Irishmen to register the Irish National Trade Mark in America for their own fraudulent purposes, and were able to prevent such registration; members of the Ways and Means Committee, Washington, approached as far back as 15th February last with arguments against proposed import duty on cured mackerel and herrings; United States Shipping Board and United States Mail Steamship Company induced to agree that the vessels of the latter should call at Cobh both ways; legal assistance offered to Jim Larkin at his trial; information in regard to the Belfast pogroms and to the Belfast boycott supplied to all papers in the States. Scores of matters similar to these, together with the everyday business of supplying information to Irish and American firms have thrown an increasing volume of work upon the Consulate, with the result that it has now a staff of nine persons.
Shortly after the American Consulate was opened, Count Gerald O'Kelly was sent to Switzerland with a view to doing trade work, and at the same time conducting a political propaganda. He found, however, from the Swiss Police authorities, that any political propaganda would result in his finding himself across the frontier. For some time he continued to do such trade work as was possible, but this was not considered sufficient in itself to justify his retention in Switzerland. He was accordingly directed at the beginning of the present year to transfer to Antwerp, where he has since been occupied with trade matters solely.
In August 1919, Mr. Domhnall Hales, who resided in Genoa, was appointed a part-time Consul. In view of the lack of direct communications and to the fact that Italy, like Ireland, is not highly industrialised, he has had to work on somewhat barren soil so far as trade is concerned. Nevertheless, the interest which he has succeeded in arousing in many Italian business men in regard to the possibilities of trade with Ireland will eventually bear fruit. In the sphere of political propaganda the work done by Mr. Hales has been simply stupendous. It seems as if every paper in Italy made a feature of regular articles from his pen.
At the same time as Mr. Hales was appointed at Genoa, Mr. L.H. Kerney was appointed a part-time officer in Paris. In May, 1920, however, on the representation of the National Envoy in France, Mr. Kerney was made a fulltime Consul, and during the past year the work and usefulness of the Paris Consulate has continued to increase.
About three months ago, a Consul was appointed to Rotterdam, but owing to the difficulty of getting a passport he has not yet been able to take up duty —surreptitious entry into Holland would probably only lead to trouble with the Dutch police.
We have now three Consulates on the Continent and a fourth about to be opened. This may seem a small number, but in view of the costliness of a Consular Service and of the fact that results can be secured only very slowly and gradually. I do not think that for a Government situated as we are a rapid expansion would be justified. A Consul must be rather highly paid if he is to live as befits his office, yet with the greatest efforts on his part there may for a long time be little or nothing to show for the expenditure incurred and the labour done. Our Consuls, who would perhaps be better styled "Trade Commissioners" since, owing to the non-recognition of the Republic, they have not the status or rights of regular Consuls, cannot themselves take steps to promote trade. They are, as it were, national publicity agents. It is not sufficient for them to see commercial opportunities; they must show the opportunities to two sets of business men and persuade them to act. And business men are not free from conservatism. In addition there are many real difficulties to be overcome when it is a question of directing trade into new channels. The consequence is, that while the well-directed zeal of a Consul, like a skilfully drawn and frequently shown advertisement, is sure ultimately to bring results, such results, in the main, will only come slowly. In a struggle like ours, therefore, in which immediate results are so important, the wholesale establishment of Consulates would not represent a judicious expenditure. Pending the recognition of the Republic, I would not recommend the opening of more than, say, a couple of additional Consulates, including one in Germany.
Dressed Meat Trade.—In May, 1919, the attention of this Department was directed to the immense importance to the country of developing an extensive Dressed Meat Export Trade, and to the danger involved in the establishment of a factory such as that at Drogheda, which it was generally believed at the time was meant to fail in the first instance and to fall eventually into the hands of the American Meat Trust. In a leaflet prepared and circulated by this Department in July, 1919, it was pointed out that the substitution of a dressed meat trade for the present fat cattle trade would provide employment for no less than 8,000 people in merely killing the beasts and dealing with the bye-products in the simplest way. In addition, fattening, and consequently tillage, would be encouraged and the present serious losses to farmers occasioned by the deterioration of beasts in transit would be avoided. Moreover, centralised slaughter on a large scale would certainly lead to the establishment of numerous subsidiary industries and ultimately a great tanning industry.
We were strongly of opinion that the industry could be both successful and nationally safe only if run by co-operative societies of farmers. After many conferences with the I.A.O.S., Farmers' Union, and considerable propaganda, a meeting of the representatives of the Co-operative Creameries, etc., and Farmers' Union was, during my absence in jail, called by Mr. Barton to be held in Waterford on November 13th, 1919. The meeting enthusiastically took up the project and appointed an organising committee. For a year afterwards a member of the staff of the Trade Department was almost wholly occupied in assisting the committee. By November, 1920, thousands of farmers and others in the counties of Waterford, Cork, Kilkenny, Tipperary, Carlow, Queen's County, etc., had become members of the society, and almost £200,000 share capital had been subscribed. The society secured an ideal site in Waterford on the river front, with excellent rail facilities. Plans for the factory were prepared, and the society was practically ready to place contracts for building and the installation of plant when the British campaign of sabotage and incendiarism became widespread. The directors decided, and in view of the fate of so many creameries I think wisely decided, to postpone any attempt to commence operations until more peaceful conditions should prevail. The programme of the society includes the provision of very extensive cold storage accommodation for butter, cheese, etc., and it is in view of this fact that about forty creameries have invested from £1,000 to £250 in shares in the society. I believe that the completion of these cold stores will at once lead to a new organisation of the butter trade in a large part of the south under which the sale and export of butter will be done, not by individual creameries, but by a federation able to grade and brand it with a brand which will give the same guarantee as that of the Danes.
Industries.—At the time when this Department was established, the postwar industrial boom was in full swing and prices were rising rapidly. In the circumstances, I felt it would not be proper to carry on any propaganda in favour of preferential purchasing of Irish-made goods, since, in most lines, manufacturers had more orders than they could deal with, and propaganda, in so far as it might have been effective, would only have been an incitement to profiteering. There was at that juncture a great deal of enthusiasm in favour of the establishment of new industries, frequently on a co-operative basis. Many of the projects came under my notice through the promoters coming forward with proposals that the Dáil should lend or give them sums ranging downwards from £3,000,000, which was asked for by one gentleman who previously held a fairly important position in a Belfast shipyard, and who submitted elaborate plans for the development of a great dockyard in the neighbourhood of Alexandra Basin. As the Cabinet had decided that no loans for industrial or commercial purposes could be granted, we had only to turn away the horde of applicants, most of whom had no use for advice or other assistance.
There were many schemes, however, in which we were able to procure useful information for the promoters. Quite a number of projects for the establishment of, say, woollen weaving and spinning factories were abandoned because there appeared to be no chance of getting machinery within any reasonable time. Many schemes were submitted to the Trade Department which we felt bound to discourage. These included, for instance, certain mining projects, and such things as the proposed sugar factory at Arklow. In the latter case the Department went very carefully into the matter and procured for the local Committee the services of a French expert, who visited the district, examined the soil, inspected the site and buildings, i.e., Kynoch's Explosive Factory, and reported decisively against the project. His opinion was that with sufficient Capital to surmount the initial difficulties there was no reason why a sugar industry should not be established in Ireland, but that Arklow was about the most unfavourable location that could be chosen.
Exclusion of British Goods:—The policy of excluding specified classes of British goods, alternative supplies being available, was suggested as far back as June, 1919, in the first Report presented to Dáil Éireann from the Trade Department. So long, however, as the various controls and trade restrictions were in force, and so long as prices were rising and there was at least an apparent scarcity of supplies, it remained impossible to contemplate putting such a policy into execution. Futhermore, it is true that trade follows the flag. Until the army of the Republic was able to destroy the governmental machinery of the enemy in large parts of the country and give his military forces as much military work as they could handle, it was obviously too soon for us to do much in the way of issuing Trade Decrees. By the summer of last year, the military situation justified legislation for the protection of Irish industries and discouragement of British trade here. Trade conditions, however, were not such as would have permitted the inauguration of a boycott policy. I prepared, therefore, an alternative scheme which provided for the scheduling of such Irish goods as were produced in sufficient quantities, and were sold at prices which an expert advisory committee would certify as being not more than 5 per cent. higher than similar quality foreign goods. It would have been obligatory on every shopkeeper under pain of fines, etc., to stock all the scheduled classes of goods appertaining to his own particular trade, and in certain cases in which a sufficient variety was produced in Ireland to stock scheduled goods only. The draft Decree embodying this scheme was adopted in principle by Dáil Éireann at its Session in September, 1920, and referred to a Committee for amendment. The slump, however, came on immediately, and the scheme became unworkable owing to the impossibility in a rapidly falling market of keeping up-to-date a schedule which would have guaranteed the public against being mulcted.
Towards the end of 1920, the atrocities of the British forces produced a feeling in many quarters that at all costs we ought to declare a complete trade boycott against England. After going into the matter carefully and consulting representative men in various lines of business I felt bound to report at the January meeting of the Dáil that such a proposal was for the time being impracticable. At the next Session of the Dáil held in March last, it was decided to proceed with the policy of partial and progressive exclusion of British goods, and it was agreed that the machinery already in existence for the Belfast boycott should be used for the purpose of enforcement. A Decree was passed authorising the Ministry to issue Orders prohibiting the importation of British makes of any class of goods. A subsequent Decree was passed in May, 1920, authorising the Ministry to prohibit the importation of goods through England, irrespective of their country of origin. No Order has been issued under the latter Decree, but under the former Decree five Orders have been issued as follows:—
No. 1. March 23rd, 1921.
Agricultural Machinery.
Mowing Machines.
Horse Rakes.
Swathe Turners.
Hay trolleys (Rick Shifters).
Corn Drills.
Root Cutters.
No. 2. April 14th, 1921.
Boot Polishes.
No. 3. May 5th, 1921.
No. 4. May 18th, 1921.
Pictorial Calendars.
No. 5. June 1st, 1921.
Preserves (Jams, Marmalade, etc.).
Medicated Wines.
Proprietary Ointments.
Other Orders awaited sanction when the Truce was arranged. The issue of the Prohibition Orders produced an immediate effect. Manufacturers of Boot Polishes and Soaps interviewed within a month of the date on which No. 2 Order came into effect stated that their output had increased from 30 per cent. in the least case to 150 per cent. in the highest. Within the same period after the coming into effect of No. 3 Order, margarine manufacturers had all benefited, although it was the season of the year when butter becomes cheap, and the consumption of margarine normally falls off. Not merely were the manufacturers of goods similar to those mentioned in the orders assisted by this policy, but almost all manufacturers of articles of constant consumption. An Irish Starch Firm found itself receiving orders from wholesalers who never took its product before. A Cutlery Firm, from being quite slack, found itself with orders to keep it going for twelve months. Cigarette makers, outside Belfast, were overwhelmed with orders, and have now in Cork, Dublin, and Dundalk trebled the number of their machines. As a result of No. 5 Order, which does not become operative until September 21st, 1921, one jam-making firm has quadrupled the number of its boilers.
Although only a comparatively small range of commodities has yet been dealt with in the Prohibition Orders, sufficient has been done to show that, steadily pursued for a couple of years, a policy of progressively excluding British goods would work a complete industrial transformation. It would, moreover, make the work of the Consuls ten times easier and ten times more fruitful.
Commission of Inquiry.—At the beginning of the present year the Department of Trade was made responsible by the Ministry for supervising the work of the Commission of Inquiry, and at the March Session of the Dáil that decision was re-affirmed. At the May Session it was promised on behalf of the Ministry that the work of the Commission would be brought to a speedy close. After various conferences with delegations from the Commission and with its Standing Committee, I recommended that the date fixed should be October 31st, by which time the following Reports, already in an advanced stage of preparation, will be completed :—
(a) Report on Sea Fisheries.
(b) Report on Milk Products.
(c) Peat Report.
(d) Coal Report.
The Commission has stated that its closing down at the end of October will probably leave the following Reports uncompleted, viz. :—
(a) Meat Report.
(b) Report on Water Power.
(c) Report on the Supply of Milk to Urban Areas.
I think, however, that the date mentioned should be adhered to, and if at the end of the intervening period it is found that any of the last mentioned Reports are within measurable distance of completion, the Ministry could consider whether special arrangements might not be made for completing them.
The Commission first met in the Mansion House on September 19th, 1919, so that by the end of October it will have been more than two years at work. Up to date it has expended, in conducting its investigations and preparing (but not printing) its Reports, a sum of about £6,000. The Reports already published include anad interim Report on Milk Production in Irish and in English, a Stock-breeding Farms Report, the Coal Memoir, a Volume of Evidence. The Industrial Alcohol Report and a second Volume of Evidence will be out in a few days. Four other Reports are promised for certain before 31st October. I think that the Commission has done its work as well and as cheaply as could have been expected. The fact that it was an omnibus Commission and set out to investigate a number of different subjects simultaneously meant that a considerable time elapsed before any of its Reports was ready. But we have now several coming out almost together. A great deal of valuable information has been assembled and collated, and ground has been cleared for specialised commissions which may sit in future to prepare detailed schemes for immediate Governmental action. Probably as much work in the way of general investigation has now been done as it is desirable to do at present, and in any case the members of the Commission who have, without fee or reward, given a great amount of time to its service, could not fairly be asked to continue indefinitely. Some members have attended not less than two or three meetings of the Commission or its Committees every week since it was established, in addition to considering memoranda of evidence at home. The zeal with which they done the work which the Ministry asked them to do should not go uncommended.