Questions of this kind have, if we interpret the intentions of the electorate rightly, been relegated rather to the Deputies of the Government Party and to the Deputies of what is known as the Republican Party, and I have the right to assume that both these Parties will accept the responsibility which has been imposed upon them. While saying that, I want to say as definitely as it is possible to say that we stand where we stood all through last Session in saying that men and women who have been arrested, men and women especially who have been arrested in time of peace or comparative peace, ought not to be detained one hour beyond the necessary time that is required to bring them to trial. We say, as definitely as it is possible to say, that in our opinion these men and women ought to be released, and we are prepared to vote for any proposition brought forward with that object in view, by any person who deems it to be his or her responsibility to raise that question in this Dáil. But our interests rather lie in questions of social and economic difficulty, problems that I fear are going to prevent the re-establishment of peace and the stabilisation of the State, unless they are dealt with on lines very differently from those hinted at and suggested by the Government, and the Government supporters, whether in the country or in the Dáil in the last Session.
So far as I can see the mind of the Government is running in the direction of allowing the development of economic affairs to follow the beaten path, and to trust to the ordinary operations of commerce and exchange to bring about prosperity in this country. During one of the Debates in the Dáil last Session I drew attention to the state of unemployment in such countries as Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands, each of which countries is somewhat in the same position as Ireland is towards the neighbouring countries. Economically each of these countries lives to a very great degree, indeed, upon export trade, upon the markets abroad. The figures which I quoted in that discussion showed that even such a country as Denmark, which was prosperous as-an agricultural country, comparatively prosperous, had within the last year a percentage of unemployment as high as twenty-five, and Sweden had a percentage of unemployment as high as thirty-two in March, 1922. This country is dependent for the export market upon prosperity in England. You are trusting to the development of the ordinary methods of commerce, and you are hopeful that the times will grow better in this country, with the coming of military peace, and that the trade of this country will revive, and a market will continue to be found across the water for Irish produce. That is the proposition, that is the mind of the Ministry, that is the mind of the supporters of the Ministry in this country.
The market in England is not improving. We were told by leading British industrialists three or four weeks ago that they expected, as things were going, an unemployed population in Great Britain of two millions. It is steadily rising since the middle of the summer, notwithstanding the fact that twelve months have elapsed since the enforcement of the wage reduction campaign in that country. People in England were told by the employers there that they must accept reductions in wages if they wanted to improve trade, to regenerate the commercial system. Reductions were enforced, but the promise has not been fulfilled. Trade and commerce have not improved, and unemployment has increased. The market for Irish goods has decreased in that country because of the decrease in employment, and because, still further, of the reductions in wages of those who are employed.
I want to know whether it is the intention of the Ministry here, whether it is the mind of the Government here, or, shall I say, whether it is the mind of the majority on the Government benches and those behind the Government benches, to continue that policy and to assist and encourage the present policy in this country towards reduction in wages. The plea is put forward here, just the same as it was in England, that employment can only be revived by reductions in wages. That was the cry in England, and it has not been fulfilled. Is there any reason for thinking that reductions in wages in Ireland will be followed by an increase of employment in Ireland to any appreciable extent? I deny it. I say, on the other hand, as I said before in this Dáil, that the true policy is to keep up wages and to readjust your economic system in such a way as to ensure that those high wages will be spent in the purchase of Irish commodities. I want the Ministry to realise, and I want some of the new members of the Dáil to realise, that even though trade were to improve to an unexpected extent in England within the next few months, that in itself is not going to improve your industrial prospects in this country. Everyone who has studied these matters knows that the power to produce cheaply in this country, even on similar rates of wages, is not as great as the power to produce cheaply in England, or one might even say in Germany, or in any of the continental countries where the standard has been lowered within recent years. But the power to produce cheaply of our industrial manufacturers in this country is not as great as the power to produce cheaply in England. During the European War we all know how manufacturers took advantage of the opportunity of lavish expenditure of Government funds to enlarge their establishments, to improve their facilities for production, and generally blind the Exchequer by spending what should have been paid in taxes—excess profits tax—in the refurbishing of their machinery and their productive processes. That was not done to anything like the same extent in this country, because the foundations were not there, and your comparative position for cheap production in Ireland as compared with England is much worse than it was prior to 1914. Assume a revival of trade in England, where are your competitive industries to be? That revival of trade in England means an easing of the opportunities for those cheap manufactures to come into Ireland and to compete with your Irish manufactures. Neither the hope of improved conditions in England nor the hope of lower wages in Ireland are going to make your industrial position satisfactory.
I want to say to the President that if his Ministry, when formed, tends to proceed on the lines of least resistance, simply to allow the ordinary processes of commerce as they have been known in the past to proceed and develop of their own volition, seeking the highest profit irrespective of human effects, seeking to buy in the cheapest market and to sell in the dearest, then the industrial and economic position of this country, in my opinion, is going to be a very bad one indeed, and any hopes that the country had that the revolution which has been accomplished would lead to improved material life for the people would be lost and unfulfilled.
We have on the Statute Book a Bill dealing with unemployment insurance. It was passed during the last Session, and affects the system of unemployment insurance, abolishing the system of uncovenanted benefit and re-establishing what might be called pure insurance schemes. During the discussion on that Bill, I pointed out from these benches that, unless there was an extraordinary revival of trade and an increase in employment between that date and October, we were going to find the winter a very serious one, because of the fact that from the middle of October we shall have a steadily increasing number of men coming on to unemployment or continuing unemployment without any unemployment insurance whatever. The dole, as it was called, was abolished, and it was hoped by the Assistant Minister in charge of the Bill that trade and commerce would so improve, between the date of the introduction of the Bill and the middle of October, that the forecast, or, rather, fears that were given voice to would not be fulfilled. There is no improvement. There is very much to the contrary. There has been an increase of several thousands in the numbers of unemployed on the Unemployment Exchanges, quite irrespective of any effects of the trade disputes. There will be a still further increase with every man demobilised, and I think it is well to ask the Ministry, or the President, whether they have taken into account the position of these people during the coming winter. During the debate on the Second Reading of the Unemployment Insurance Bill, Mr. Whelehan stated that by the middle of August 10,000 persons would have exhausted all their contributions, and would have no right to benefit but for the special arrangement proposed in the Bill. He also stated that when the first benefit year terminates, on October the 7th, about one-third of the unemployed will, if they continue to draw benefit until then, have no contribution left unexhausted with which to restart the new benefit year. "It is hoped," he said, "that by that time economic conditions will have so improved as to have absorbed all, or nearly all, of these workers into employment."
Now, what are we to contemplate, if nothing is done to substitute for the dole, as it was called, something better? Are we to look on calmly and without fear at the increase in unemployment, and the steadily and rapidly growing number of men, who are not only unemployed, but are not receiving any insurance benefit? Do you think that that large number of people in the country are going to be contented and satisfied to rest silent, quiet, and patient until the Government is satisfied that peace has been re-established, and that the ordinary processes of commerce will have solved this problem? I have no such hopes. On the contrary, I have very great fears that this growing number of unemployed, with nothing to fall back upon in the way of insurance benefit, will make your social problem, perhaps make your military problem, a very, very great one indeed. It seems to me that the Government, and that any Ministry that may be elected, is faced, at this moment, with the question of whether they are going to choose to follow on the ordinary British and European system of commerce—laissez faire in commerce—or whether they are going to show some imagination and resist the temptation to take the easy line of life and leave things to find their own level. I hope the decision of the Government will be to follow on and bring into practical application those principles which they advocated, which we advocated prior to the establishment of the Free State, principles which laid it down clearly that it was the duty of the State to see that the children of the State would have opportunities for employment, for wealth production and opportunities to live in the country to which they belong. I would ask Ministers to spend a day or two in looking back upon the propaganda that they indulged in prior to the signing of the Treaty, during the agitation which led to the signing of the Treaty, and to face the implications honestly, and to bring them into practical operation. If they will do that they will get our support to the utmost possible extent, but if they do that they will lose the support of many others, whose support, I imagine from the signs we have seen, they will much rather have than the support of those who have spoken on behalf of labour in the past.