I rise to second the motion, and I do so with very much regret. I think it will be apparent to everybody that it is a matter of very deep regret, not alone to members of the Labour Party, but to every other person in the country, that the Government of this State have done practically nothing towards the solution of this question. What is the position in the State to-day? As I understand it, as the members of the Labour Party understand it, and, I think, as everybody understands it, the position is that there are about 50,000 persons unemployed in the country to-day. You have that large number of people faced with this position, that they are not able to tell where the means to support them on the following day are to come from. The actual position is, that you have 50,000 persons on compulsory hunger strike to-day. I think that fact alone ought to be sufficient to induce the members of the Dáil and the Government of the State to realise that this is a very urgent problem, and one that requires to be dealt with at once if the calamity that we are faced with in the future, followed to its natural conclusion, is to be averted.
In addition to the 50,000 persons unemployed in the country, you have, as Deputy Morrissey pointed out, the ranks of the unemployed being swelled day after day by the men leaving the National Army at the present time, and the ranks will be further swelled by the unfortunate workers coming back from the prisons to their homes. In a good many cases these men will not be able to get unemployment benefit, because, as Deputy Morrissey pointed out, the Unemployment Act is for all practicable purposes already scrapped. The Ministry of Industry and Commerce issues a series of figures from time to time to the daily Press showing that the number of unemployed in this country is decreasing. I do not think that the figures that are being issued to the Press are correct. I would even go further and say that the figures, quite unintentionally perhaps, are most misleading. I believe that these figures, which are being served out from time to time to the Press as to the alleged reduction that has taken place in unemployment in this country, are not correct. The alleged reduction, I suggest, is due to the fact that unemployed men are not getting work, but rather to the fact that men are being knocked off the unemployment register, because under Section 8 of the Insurance Act they are held to be debarred from getting any further benefits.
It has been the fashion all over the country, and even in this Dáil, to sneer at the Unemployment Act. While I have always taken up the attitude that the Unemployment Act will never solve the question of unemployment, I still believe that that Act did a certain amount of good, and that it had certain merits. I know, of course, that the Act has certain faults, but these, I think, were due rather to its administration. It contained faults that could not be corrected, I suggest, on account of the loose code of morals that existed for the last two or three years, and also on account of the experiences that the country has passed through. To my mind, there was certainly not much ice cut by the cheap sneers that we have heard from time to time in the Dáil on this Unemployment Act. Neither do I think that there is much point in the remarks that we hear from time to time in this Dáil and elsewhere about the chronic idler.
There is one thing certain, and nobody can deny this, that the overwhelming majority of the workers in this country are not chronic idlers. The workers of the State are anxious to work for the benefit of their country, and they are not anxious to quarter themselves on the funds of this State, or to live at the expense of the taxpayers. To illustrate the points I am arguing, I desire to bring to the notice of the Dáil some of the conditions that exist in the constituency I represent as regards the Unemployment Act. I have before me, as I speak, instances of persons whose cases will be the subject of legal proceedings for obtaining unemployment benefit under false pretences. It is important that I should state that these persons are not workers. I have a couple of cases in mind which are to come before the Courts in the County Cork in the course of a few days of persons who attempted to get unemployment benefit, although at the time they were in the possession of two or three farms. At the outset of my remarks, I expressed the fear that nothing practicable would be done by the Government to solve this unemployment question.
I do not deny the fact that certain attempts were made or that certain schemes were brought about for the temporary relief of distress, and I would like, in passing, to say a word in connection with some of the schemes. Some time ago the Distress Committee of the Dáil initiated a scheme for the relief of certain districts. In a part of the country that I know the sum of £700 was allocated for the relief of distress. I would like to bring before the Dáil some of the facts in connection with the manner in which this money was spent. I have before me a case in my own district where the sum of £700 was handed over to a Rural Council to relieve distress amongst two or three hundred working men in that district and I know, and I could prove before any assembly or inquiry that may be set up, that that money was spent, not on the workers but for the benefit of members of the Council who kept the money and gave it to different people not in distress, and I think it fit and proper to say that in connection with any future scheme laid down for the relief of distress it would be well, and most necessary, that enquiry should be made and strict supervision carried on over the spending of that money. The position in the district I refer to was that the comfortable farmers' sons, members of the District Council, obtained this money given for the relief of distress and spent that money themselves among their friends and their cousins who are a class amongst themselves, and this money was spent upon horses and so on. That state of affairs is a gross wrong and it demands supervision, enquiry and attention from those responsible for the giving of that money. I have seen men who were unemployed for months go to a meeting of the council for the purpose of obtaining assistance from this fund, but they were turned away and would not get a single penny.
Now, I will mention some instances that came under my own notice in the constitutency that I represent in connection with unemployment, and I will try to illustrate some things I have seen, even in my own locality, or in the County Cork at any rate, that have been done to relieve unemployment. Two or three days ago I put a question to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, and I might say in passing, it is a matter for regret, on our part, to see that in an important debate like this the Minister for Industry and Commerce, or somebody from his Department, is not here. I put a question down to the Minister in connection with the closing down of Barytes Mine at Clonakilty in April, 1922. It was not closed down because the workers were turbulent or that they created an impossible position for the owners of the mine. As a matter of fact, and I do not know whether it is to the special credit or shame of the workers, they had previously accepted a reduction in wages, but they were guided in accepting that reduction by the fact that in doing so they were helping to keep the enterprise going. At any rate the mine closed down and that position obtained for the last twelve months, and between 100 and 105 men are now unemployed and walking the streets of Clonakilty, and in the last two or three weeks I was told that all these people, under the Section quoted by Deputy Morrissey, will be deprived of unemployment benefit. During the last twelve months the Minister for Industry and Commerce paid these people a sum of £5,000 at the lowest calculation, and I submit that if that money was spent in helping to keep the enterprise these men were engaged on going it would be well spent, and would save the awful position that the 105 men I have referred to have to face this coming Christmas.
I have other instances besides that. I questioned the Minister for Local Government a few days ago in connection with the allocation of money for the relief of distress in another part of Cork — Castletown-Berehaven. That district is one of the hardest hit by the present situation. It used to be a fishing station of some importance, but now it is practically deserted in that respect. There again we are faced with the position that the Ministry of Fisheries has no money available for the development of the fishing industry. The Minister for Local Government, in his reply to me, said that a certain amount of money had been allocated to this district for the relief of distress but that the money was held up owing to irregular activities in the district. I understand there is a certain amount of truth in that statement. I think some measure of comfort for the men in that district depended on the employment that they could get and if the Minister for Local Government, or some official in his Department could have devised some scheme, if not then, well, at a later day, it would have given these poor people at least the right to live. I could go on multiplying for a long time the instances I have given in this matter, but I do not intend to weary Deputies in the Dáil by long speeches or by numerous statistics on the question. But I claim the indulgence of the Dáil to refer to the circular mentioned by Deputy Morrissey already. The Minister for Local Government in issuing this circular and sending it out to the Council makes, to my mind at any rate, two or three extraordinary statements. He says: "It is in the national interest to secure a high standard of road maintenance, but if the large mileage of trunk roads requiring reconstruction is to be dealt with efficiently and with due regard to the cost which can reasonably be borne by ratepayers, a stricter control of expenditure must be instituted, existing rates of wages must be reduced and the present privileged character of road labour reviewed."
Like Deputy Morrissey, I have yet to learn that the position of the road workers, as far as I know it, or so far as our Party knows it, is in any way privileged. Down in the County Cork where we had experience of the ravages caused by two wars, I make bold to say that the position of the road workers has been anything but an enviable one. In my opinion when the Minister for Local Government says that there is not a proper standard of efficiency under the direct labour system at present he is condemning that system without giving it due consideration and I do not think that without going into the matter fully he is warranted in coming to such a conclusion. He should get all the facts of the question put before him and give the matter due consideration before coming to such a conclusion. I know that the road workers in the County Cork who have been trying to earn a living as road workers during the last two or three years were certainly not in a privileged position. I know that in many of their homes at the present time, and even during the period I refer to, there was nothing but pure naked and unashamed hunger. Therefore I say it is a slight on a body of unfortunate men to suggest that they occupy a privileged position without at least adducing some evidence as to what the privilege consisted of. I understand it is the intention of the Government at the present time to put on the roads members of the National Army who are demobilised. Two or three days ago I heard a handsome tribute from the President uttered in this Dáil in praise of the men of the National Army. I certainly, and I am sure I may say the same for everyone on these Benches, would not gainsay a word that the President spoke in praise of the men of the National Army on that occasion. We are as much indebted to them as to any other class for the way in which the structure of this Nation has been saved, but I do say it is not worthy of the traditions of the Army nor of the Government of the people to ask these men when leaving the National Army to go back into the world and engage in a mobilised system of scabbing on their fellow workers.
I do not think it is right to ask the men who are leaving the National Army to go back and assist in breaking down the system of wages. I do not think it is wise to ask men of the National Army to go back into their own districts and to take the bread out of the mouths of their starving brothers. The workers of this country looked forward to the establishment of this Government with hope. They gave some earnest of what they were prepared to do in the establishment of this Government. I say that the workers have been disappointed. I believe—and I think I have some reason for believing —that the attitude of the Government, as revealed from time to time, is an attitude of hostility to the workers. Three or four weeks ago we had announced here the decision of the Minister for Finance to attack the position of the National teachers and old age pensioners. Yesterday we had a report from the Postmaster-General that turned down the recommendations of the Commission set up by the Government to enquire into the conditions of the Postal Service. Now we have the attack on more unfortunate people still— the road workers. I cannot believe that any Government that set the slogan, "Justice, Equity, Freedom, and Common Citizenship," in 1918, would have adopted a policy that means reduction in wages and starvation in 1923. The Government has not attended to this matter in the fashion that it ought to have done. The question does not brook any further delay, and believing, as I do, that the Government has ignored this matter, either deliberately or unintentionally, I second this motion.