Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 10 May 1922

Vol. S2 No. 9


We will now take up the report of the Department of Trade and Commerce.

I move this report.

I second that.

I have not very much to say to this report, because it gives very little information. But I would like to ask the Minister for Trade when was Mr. Bewley appointed; what business experience has he, and what exactly has he been doing in the way of facilitating trade between Germany and Ireland in Berlin? I understand also, as regards the sale of iron goods, etc., that are coming into this country from the Netherlands, that the Irish builder has to pay whatever price the British Steam Trust chooses to put on these articles. I would like to know what steps the Minister for Trade has taken to facilitate trade between Belgium, in particular, and Ireland, and so avoid the British Steam Trust ring and thereby reduce the price to the Irish builders.

With regard to the prohibition of British goods, the Minister for Local Government, when he was winding up the discussion on Local Government, stated that the foundries in Wexford were packed with agricultural instruments. These were the very first instruments that were prohibited when the British Boycott was first imposed and I think that a great deal of the number of agricultural implements in Wexford for which there is now no market is due to the fact that permits have been given wholesale to introduce British agricultural implements into this country. The Boycott is about to be raised. I see according to this report you have another article that was prohibited, that is, margarine. You have factories— Dowdall's in Cork and McDonnell's in Waterford—idle, and men working on short time. The Minister for Trade proposes to allow the dumping of Danish margarine into the country at the same time that he lifts what was the protection of Irish industries. He says here almost all Irish industries are feeling very keenly the pressure of foreign competition and he is going to increase that by raising the British Boycott. I think instead of loosening the Boycott, that it should be strengthened and where articles are manufactured in Ireland, or are in the first stages of manufacture, I think it should be the first duty of this House and of the Minister for Trade to see that to a very large extent, at least, foreign competition should be excluded, provided the prices of articles in Ireland are fixed. I think it is futile to say that Irish industries are at present feeling the pinch and at the same time to say that we are going to let in English stuff freely in the future. I would suggest to the Minister for Trade and Commerce that instead of raising the prohibition that he should enlarge his list of prohibitions. You have practically every industry in Ireland at the present suffering for want of work and at the same time you have millions and millions of stock coming in from England of manufactured in Ireland. It is now for Dáil Éireann and the Minister for Trade to say how such Irish goods shall be consumed by the Irish people. You can do that by prohibiting any foreign articles coming in which will hit Irish industries. I think that was the policy of the old Dáil—to give employment to the Irish people—and prior to the Treaty I understood that the lists were about to be increased. But now the policy is to allow English goods in here without prohibition. I do not know whether it is above them or not. The last thing that he seems to think of is that the people are being disemployed as a result of that prohibition being raised. I hope that the part of the report in reference to the prohibition of English goods will not be adopted.

I would like to learn from the Minister what steps, if any, have been taken to remove the penalisation of the export of Irish cattle to the continent. The trade and general export of cattle from Ireland has been penalised for quite a considerable time, simply owing to Ireland being included in the legislation in the British Empire, and not owing to any defect in the Irish cattle themselves. Circumstances make the moment very propitious for that particular trade and the only thing that prohibits it is the question of prohibition in certain countries. I take it that he has already taken some action and I would like to know what.

For years the consular service has been in the hands of certain elements which I might describe as the snobocracy. Recently, as the result of the national movement, efforts were made to secure this consular representation for Irishmen. In that connection assistance was sought with a view to having such appointments made independent of the pro-British influences in this country. But the best advice that this gentleman was able to give was that absolutely a sine qua non for such an appointment in this country was a recommendation from a Lord, or at least from a Baronet.

There is one matter which has been raised three or four times at previous meetings of the Dáil. That is the question of standardising supplies for the Public Bodies. I suppose this arises more out of the report of the Local Government Minister, but it is half and half. I do not know whether any progress has been made with that scheme. It is quite possible that the whole problem of industrial reorganisation in Ireland is such a big one and so complicated, and especially viewing it in the present state of affairs, that Ministers concerned decided to do nothing. Time drives on and nothing is done. I am not standing up now to throw any destructive criticism on the report, from the point of view of obstruction, or party politics. There are some things, at least, that can be tackled at the moment. We are at present in a state of unemployment, such as we have not witnessed in the country for a long time. There are some lines on which the problem would be hard to deal with. There are others in which it would be comparatively easy, and I think if the Minister were to tackle the problem he could do something on constructive lines. One would come partly under the heading of trade and that is the standardising of supplies for public boards and institutions of all kinds. It has particular reference to one matter raised here and that is the state of unemployment in the foundry industries in Wexford. There are three or four foundries in Wexford, two in Limerick, and six in Dublin. You have a fairly small number of men to deal with if you want to get anything done. On the other hand, the bodies who use cast iron goods in large quantities are also very few. It looks to me that the problem is one that could be dealt with now without waiting too long for more settled conditions. In the schools, for example, there are such things as school desks, and there are also gratings and mains, electrical and gas supplies and so on. These are only a few; there are many others. There are probably other supplies of a similar nature either in the way of clothing or of food. But I wish to draw your attention to this particular line, cast-iron goods. That might be tackled by the Minister directly. Iron foundries have formed an association and you would in that way be able to find out how far they would co-operate at the moment. Engineers of public bodies have an association of their own. There is also an association for public bodies themselves, and I think the municipal bodies have an association also. I know that Corporations, Urban Councils and Borough Councils, have such an association, and through their Engineers and Chairmen it ought to be possible to devise some scheme by which immediately cast-iron requirements for the country could be made in the country. I would also like if the Minister for Trade and Commerce could give us at a future meeting anything in the nature of a tabulated report under different headings, or the amount of cast-iron goods that are being imported, with particular reference to those that are being made in Ireland. There are some that cannot be made in Ireland at the present moment; there are others that can, and it would enable the House to go more closely into it if such a report were before it, and report the actual amount involved. In some lines the amount is so little possibly as to have very little effect on employment. There is a big quantity of goods being imported into the country at the present moment which in the course of one month could be stopped and could be made here in Ireland.

I thought the Minister for Trade and Commerce would have withdrawn this report, because his job is a sinecure now. Those of us in business are wondering where trade is. There is no trade in Ireland at the present time, and I would like to ask the Deputy for North Tipperary when he is talking about British influence in different sections of Irish imports what he himself and his friends have done to help us to get Irish manufacturers working and to keep their hands employed. I will give a free invitation to the members of this House to come to my office to-morrow morning and find out in my own particular business how many men are idle, and I will ask any business man what is the cause of the lack of trade. It is not the want of support for Irish manufactured goods; it is the obstruction to the work of the people who want to carry on. Anybody in business in Ireland will tell you that there is no business. The lack of business is due to the obstruction to the Government of the country, and the feeling of insecurity that exists. People will not build a house, start a factory, or buy a motor car, because they do not know when some brigands will come in and take their goods away.

The slump in trade was there before we heard of the Treaty.

I know there was a slump, but this has made matter a thousand times worse.

Really the economic life of the nation should not be mixed up with politics.

If the economic life of the nation has no relation to politics what are we doing here? We are sitting here talking of standarising articles when the country is going to the dogs; when the country is starving.

I am greatly disappointed at the action of the Minister for Trade. I would like to know what protection he has given to the manufacturers of this country and to the wholesale men. He wants to have free, fair competition for foreigners, when the public money of the country is being spent for the clothing and the shoes of the army of this country. I find that Deputy McGarry said that those who were opposed to the Treaty were the cause of it. I would like to know was he so much interested when he saw waggon loads of goods going donn to Beggar's Bush that could be produced in Cork. I say the Minister for Trade is not giving any help to this country, but he is hampering it. You see there the foreign stuff dumped down.


I am afraid that the Deputy for Limerick has not read the report. We have started two new industries by reason of this collective buying. It is not at present what we would like it to be but there is room for a good deal of extension. Considerable opposition has been offered locally as the Inspector mentions in this report. We have been successful in persuading cement factories to re-open in Wexford and generally there is a real live effort being made as far as Local Government is concerned and to a very large extent the Department is indebted to the Minister for Trade, because he is the Minister who has charge of that Department. And he has done remarkably well. Three hundred and forty-six items have been taken up by him out of a possible eleven hundred. Now we are only about three or four months at this work and we intend to standarise samples and it will mean the co-operation and assistance of the Deputies with the Local Authorities in their areas to ensure anything like success in this new departure. These bodies sometimes get an idea that we want to boss them from the centre; now there is no truth in that; we never attempted to do that, but we say they have no right to pay bigger prices locally for any goods that they require when a competitor from a distance is in a position to land goods of a similar quality at smaller prices. Members may have read a letter in the Press the other day complaining about the "bungledom" of the Custom House being introduced into the Local Government Department. The facts are that a local contractor tendered at 1s. 7d. per gallon for a certain article. We pointed out that the price was too high, and that we were in a position to supply them with the same article at 1s. 4d. As a result of the activities of the Department a local contractor has been found to supply at 1s. 5d. per gallon; in Galway a contractor would not take less than 2s. for what we could put on rail here at 1s. 4d. On that being pointed out the Galway contractor came down to 1s. 7½d. That is the sort of thing we have all over the country. It is much more pronounced in certain places, and one Deputy informs me that certain towns are absolutely living out of the institutions in their midst. In one case an inspector found that they were paying higher than the retail prices for most things. Local influence is strong in those places, in the same way as it was strong in the amalgamation of unions. Everyone wanted amalgamation so long as his own town was left alone. Unless co-operation is given by members in the various districts I do not think we will make a success of this. I am satisfied that nothing will be left undone to make it a success. But in the long run it depends upon the Local Councils if they will support us.

I was surprised when I heard Deputy McGarry inform us about the want of employment and what he thinks is the cause of it. I am perfectly satisfied that Mr. McGarry has done his part for Irish industries. I am in agreement with what the Minister for Local Government stated, because uniformally local influences have permeated public affairs, not alone in this but in every country. We are not discussing the Department of the Minister for Local Government, but the Department of the Minister for Trade and Commerce, and he is not very encouraging. His report is not even on a par with the various previous reports which he put up to this House. In previous reports he pointed out commercial development, but we are all aware that with certain obstacles in his way he is not able to develop things. There is no reason whatever why he should not concentrate the peoples' minds on the duty they owe to themselves and to this country to support Irish Industry, and he should assist by propagandist methods the industries of our country. No business man can agree with his report and no pioneer in development would agree that propagandist appeals would give no return. It would be a pleasure to me if he attempted any propagandist work. From what I know of propagandist work the results exceeded our expectation. If the Executive of the Republican Government had done some work in this connection it would be engaged in the sound national work of creating employment which is wanted by the people of Ireland. Every other day public men appeal for support of Irish Industry, and every other day we read in the Press that President Griffith and other leading members of this House appeal that industries should be supported. It is our first duty to support the products of our country and to the credit of the Minister for Trade and Commerce he reports "Most of the industries are at present feeling the pressure of foreign competition." What has his Department being doing for the last two months to prevent that? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. He is possibly doing his part to give the foreign manufacturers every opportunity to destroy it.

The Postmaster General can give some information as to the result to Irish Industries when the Belfast Boycott was lifted. People are under the idea that the Irish people will not invest money. This is not true. Some business men will invest money in various industries all over the country and they will do fairly well. It is the duty of Ministers to protect our industries for the nation. In every country where it is necessary to protect the home producer against the foreigner a tariff is set up and no man could desire a better tariff than the decree of Dáil Éireann. I just mention one instance now. Paper was being sold in England at £14 per ton. That was wrapping paper. The same paper was being sold in Dublin at £11 a ton. The result was that one of the Irish Paper Mills was closed down and two are working at half time.

Which is that?

The Killeen Mills. The Minister for Trade and Commerce in his report says:

"The orders prohibiting the importation and sale of various classes of British goods were part of a policy too rigid and arbitrary to be really sound economically or to be justifiable except to meet a wartime emergency."

Is this your Executive's policy. Now, subject to the correction of the Minister, I understand that a meeting for an exchange of opinion was held between him and the Minister of the Cabinet. He pressed for the Decree to be lifted. However, an important member of the Executive stated that it would not be wise to raise the Decree, but that you could meet it by issuing private permits to various people in the country. Private permits were issued for goods that were produced in Ireland equal to any produced abroad. I, for one, would not protest if any article not competitive were imported, but goods that were imported put people in Dublin and Cork and Limerick out of employment, and that permit was issued to one factory in the biscuit trade and I know something about biscuits.


Were they of the Rock variety?

No, but they were of the Scotch variety. The names of the men to whom the permits were given were men who were opposed to the national idea for years, while in trade. Whether the Minister was looking to get some return or not I am not aware. But this I know that other men would not get a permit. That permit was issued to that man. The Minister had no right to issue a permit without the authority of this House, and we should protest in every way in our power if he did not do his duty to protect the interests of the country, and we should have him removed from office. I wanted to have this matter settled and I am proud to say I have tried to have the matter settled outside the Cabinet. I looked up Deputy Staines who told me he would do his best and that I could settle it without bringing it before the House. The idea of issuing permits to men in the jam trade is scandalous. I am sure the Minister must have imagined when he was importing English blacking that he would see in the shine the shadow of what he believed was true, but he is destroying the substance of our industrial life and I move that the Minister's report be not accepted.

Deputy O'Mahony mentioned about the paper industry. I just want to mention about one particular instance that I happen to be aware of in my capacity as Labour Minister. Some time ago a strike over a very small matter occurred at Clondalkin Mills, which employs a very large number. At any rate there are up to 100 families supported by it. A good deal of negotiations went on and eventually an agreement was arrived at, but I am sorry to say the men turned down the agreement against the wishes of their leaders. Shortly after, the management received a letter, supposed to come from a member of the Executive forces, ordering him to open the premises as there were a number of men who were idle as a result of the strike joining up, as he alleged, the forces at Beggar's Bush.

I object; we are not discussing that matter.

They had not joined up, as a matter of fact. The management pointed out that the factory was there if they cared to work it, and pointed out further that the material removed a week before was not returned. I got the men after a good deal of trouble to agree to resume on the original terms agreed to. I got into touch with the management of the firm and they replied while they pointed out that it took a great deal more to manufacture the same class of paper here, in spite of that they might get over the labour difficulties and the other difficulties in the way, but that owing to the state of the country, and the way they had been treated, they definitely decided to leave the factory closed. I thought it well to mention that in view of what Mr. O'Mahony has said as to the causes of the unemployment. There was a good deal of unemployment before the Treaty, but I know very well that for three or four weeks after it was signed that there was less. But it must not be forgotten by the people talking about unemployment that here in Dublin a few weeks ago there were 450 people knocked out of work, and it is quite possible that next week those 450 people will be on the streets again. There are 40 employees in the Clonmel Nationalist turned out of work. I had a letter from them and they have pointed out that they are absolutely helpless. Probably we will have to do the same thing for them as in the case of the Freeman. There are 25 unemployed in the Sligo Champion. Apart from this and all the other interests, paper, ink, and such interests are suffering as a result.

We will take the points more or less as they occur, or were made in the various speeches. With regard to the exact time that Mr. Bewley was appointed we will find that out. It was sometime towards the end of November. Deputy McDonagh suggested that unemployment in Wexford was due, in some measure, to the wholesale issue of permits for the introduction of agricultural implements. That is entirely wrong. There have been no permits issued for the import of agricultural implements except for some to be shown at the Dublin Show, but no permits have been issued for machines which could in any way have interfered with the sale of machinery made at Wexford. But the reason of the slump there is not the issuing of permits; it is owing to the fact that land has gone out of tillage as a result of the European war and also in a large measure as a result of the conditions which obtain here. Because of land going out of cultivation agricultural implements are not being purchased. Last spring we issued an order forbidding the importation of agricultural implements into the country. That order had practically no effect, because last year people had almost ceased to buy agricultural implements. Those who wanted them were able to get them second-hand in many cases, because people who had land in tillage were letting it go out of tillage, and had implements for sale.

In regard to the question of margarine, what is hitting margarine at the present moment is entirely Dutch competition. British margarine people are losing money just as the Irish margarine people are, and we have no power. The prohibition never extended to any margarine, except British margarine, so that it is not the issuing of permits that is causing the unemployment.

With regard to the question about the export of cattle, Ireland is included as far as France is concerned. Irish cattle are not allowed to land because an Order was issued about a year ago, when the outbreak of foot and mouth disease occurred in England, prohibiting the importation of cattle from Great Britain and Ireland. Our consul has been at work trying to get the Order varied and he has pointed out that there is no reason at all why Irish cattle should be excluded and that there is no foot and mouth disease in Ireland. So far he has not succeeded in inducing the French authority to alter the Order. In Belgium our consul has been successful in getting the Belgian authorities to withdraw the ban on Irish cattle, and I hope the same results will occur in France.

In regard to the statement by the Lord Mayor of Cork about a Lord or Baronet, I do not know anything about that.

The matter of standarising the samples of goods required by public bodies has been dealt with by the Minister for Local Government. A certain amount of work was done by my Department, but owing to the state of the country none of the plans could be put into operation. The official who had charge of that matter has gone to the Local Government Board and has been doing it. In regard to Beggars Bush and the articles for that place that is a matter about which the Minister for Defence can answer and will answer. However, I am informed that no money has been spent on any foreign goods where Irish goods could be obtained. Every Irish cloth manufacturer who could make material for uniforms has been asked to do it. Woollen goods for underwear are not turned out in sufficient quantities in Ireland and the men could not be expected to go without a change.

In regard to cutlery the same state of things obtained. In regard to the legality of issuing permits the Decree that was passed by Dáil Éireann authorised me to issue orders prohibiting the importation and sale of certain goods of British manufacture. It was simply an empowering order. As I said I believe that that rigid prohibition of British goods is not a thing that is economically sound. Industries started under those conditions would not possibly survive in normal times. I know of various industries which were started and which were simply hopeless, and are we now to continue mulcting the Irish people? Assistance must be given by some graduated scheme, but it is not sound or advisable to give an absolute monopoly to the people in this country. Prohibition orders do not effect the giving of protection to Irish manufacture; they stop the British goods from coming in. British margarine was coming in; that was stopped. The stopping of it did not help Irish manufacture, but in so far as it hit the British manufacturer these things were a proper and justifiable weapon; but when the war is not going on it would be different, and I am quite prepared to stand on the soundness of that principle. The matter of issuing permits was suggeted to you by myself, because there was a certain objection to take off a prohibition because of the fact that we did not know what might occur in the country and whether circumstances might not occur which would render it advisable. We could not assume absolutely that the British would carry out their undertaking to evacuate the country. When there was no further excuse for the thing that was definitely a war measure the issuing of permits seemed to be an easy way of introducing the change. It seemed to me that even if we postponed it for some time, if we withdrew the prohibition orders at once that there might be quite a rush for the importation of British goods and that it would be a better way and would do less injury if the change were introduced gradually. Permits were issued then generally for very little quantities so that if anything occurred which made it proper to rigidly enforce the order again nobody could have the excuse of saying he had large quantities on hands.

With regard to the various things that Mr. O'Mahony said, he permitted himself to make a scandalous insinuation by innuendo. Until he withdraws that insinuation I take no further notice of him; I have nothing further to say to the gentleman. The House heard the innuendo which he thought proper to make.

If as he thinks I suggested that there was any monetary gain I would be sorry.

Very well. I know nothing about the particular permit that Mr. O'Mahony refers to. He did not give me the name of the person. I took no action with regard to the permit. It was issued in the usual course and not as a result of anything he said. I do not know to what permit he refers.

Referring to the general situation nobody who looks at the matter, I think, except through very jaundiced spectacles, can doubt that the situation in the country is absolutely fatal to trade and to the development of industry. People may think that the action which does destroy trade, which holds up trade, and destroys industry, is justifiable on some higher ground than merely the economic ground. But I think that nobody at all can deny that these actions which are going on and the state to which they have brought the country make any sort of economic stability utterly impossible. It is all very well to suggest a number of small things that might be done to remedy unemployment. But those things would be like trying to keep out the sea with a broom. They cannot have any more effect in staying the trend of things economically than would the keeping out of the sea with a broom. And, with regard to this Department, the members of Dáil Éireann ought to realise, whatever you might say about keeping economic affairs from politics, that politics rule economics, and they have everything to do with the Government and with taxation, and the power of the purse, which enables industry to be assisted. Nothing was possible under the old conditions for the Department of Trade and Commerce except to gather information and give certain advice. Those things are of small importance in the matter of industry, except in the matter appertaining to trade. Very few people are experts in that matter, and in regard to that particular matter it has been possible to give substantial help. But in regard to every other Department, everybody who comes to you about industry either wants money or protection. Money it was not possible to give them by grants or loans or subsidies because it was not there. Money can only be given by a Government in matters of that kind. Protection was given, but it was only a make-shift affair and one which if continued long enough would be very hard on many sections of the community, because it would have given rise to very serious profiteering. If we were to apply this principle to English margarine, if we were to extend that Order we should immediately have the margarine manufacturers putting up prices from 6d. to 7d. Perhaps 7d. might be justified or it might go up to 8d., and if you have a general policy of rigid prohibition there is no doubt but the most scandalous profiteering may go on. So it is impossible to give any sort of adequate protection to any industry in the way we have heard. There is a great deal of propaganda done. It was done by the manifesto of the Labour Party and by the manufacturers and by my Department in the shape of leaflets and it was done on behalf of Irish cigarettes.

Now, in regard to cigarettes, when feeling was high before the Truce there was a great increase in the consumption of Irish cigarettes, but immediately the Truce came on when we had not actual war conditions the result was that the consumption fell off and that the manufacturers who had installed six machines for the manufacture of cigarettes have not enough work now for two machines. In that case it was clearly shown that propaganda only gives very limited results and that, as a matter of fact, when you continue harping at the people to do a thing and using the same reasons people became casehardened to it. The first appeal had the best results. Only very small results can be gained and even if they could be gained in the conditions that exist in the country they would amount to practically nothing. The only way that is worth talking about of assisting trade and industry at the present time is to produce stabilised conditions in the country and put an end to this disorder that is in the country. That is what will give confidence to the people to undertake new enterprises that will keep the people here, and nothing else will be of any value whatever.

Motion put and agreed to without a division.