IMMATURE SPIRITS (RESTRICTION) BILL, 1926—SECOND STAGE.

I move the Second Reading of this Bill. The object of the Bill is to amend the Act of 1915 by substituting a period of at least five years. It means that in future spirits cannot be delivered for ordinary use as beverage unless they are warehoused for at least five years. There are certain classes of spirits to which the Act of 1915 does not apply and the present Act does not apply either:—Spirits delivered free of duty for methylation or other uses, for art or manufacture, and spirits used for the composition of mixtures or compounds, that is spirits used for the manufacture of something, for instance, such as spirits used for scientific purposes, imported Geneva and liqueurs. It is provided in the Bill that this new restriction shall not come into force for at any rate a period of two years. It is believed, however, that there is not the quantity of the requisite age in the country which would enable the trade to be carried on in the ordinary way, if special arrangements were not made. Some similar concession was given in the Act of 1915. For the future, after the passage of this Act, no spirits, subject to the exception I have mentioned, which have not been warehoused for at least five years, can be delivered for use as a beverage.

At present the greater quantities of the spirits taken out of bond have been warehoused for five years, but something like fifteen and twenty per cent. of the whiskey drawn out of bond is under the five years, some of it even under four years or less. It is generally felt and certainly this is so in the case of potstill whiskey, that whiskey ought not to go into consumption under five years. Many believe the age should be still more mature and that it ought not to go into consumption under seven years, but it would be impossible to compel the maturing for a period of seven years at present. Distilling was interrupted during the European War, and it would upset the whole trade if a period longer than five years were to be insisted on.

A further extension in the period was a matter that might be considered after some years. The position certainly is that we must, so far as we can, by legislation, see that the reputation of Irish whiskey and its character are maintained. Competing whiskey is made in the main by a cheaper process. It is a whiskey consisting mostly of spirit which can be obtained at a cheaper rate and the Irish whiskey cannot compete with it on the mere basis of price. If it can compete and hold its own, it must do it on the basis of quality and just as we have certain provisions on the Statute Book for the purpose of seeing that Irish butter and eggs are up to a certain quality, it seems to be proper and desirable, that corresponding steps should be insisted upon with regard to Irish whiskey, at any rate as far as consumption here is concerned. No upset of any kind will be caused by this Bill. Only some fifteen or twenty per cent. of spirits going into consumption are less than five years of age. There are quite sufficient quantities of spirit to meet the demand, at least for five years. At present the issue of spirits out of bond being restricted temporarily owing to the passage of this Act an undue quantity of younger spirit cannot be taken out before the Bill becomes law.

May I ask the Minister whether he hopes to give any help to the distilling industry in the Saorstát? It is at present almost crushed out of existence as the result of the unfair burden of taxation it has to bear. The Minister ought to give some idea of what the future has in store for this industry.

The intention of the Minister in this Bill is most admirable and excellent and will be received with enthusiasm by that numerous and respectable body, the drinkers of whiskey, but I am afraid his intention is not sufficient and that there is one great obstacle towards his desire, to increase the reputation of Irish whiskey by means of a measure of this character. The average man, when he goes into a publichouse does not ask for whiskey an t-Saorstáit, or even Saorstát whiskey. Sometimes he asks for a particular brand, but in general he asks for Irish whiskey, and all Irish whiskey is not manufactured in the Saorstát. There is a good deal manufactured in Northern Ireland. Unless a similar measure is passed in Northern Ireland we shall not enhance the reputation of Irish whiskey. I think the Minister wants to improve its reputation outside as well as inside Ireland and to build up an export trade. A customer in Switzerland or France asks for Irish whiskey but does not ask for Jameson, Power or Dunville, as he does not know whether it comes from the Saorstát or from Northern Ireland. Unless similar steps are taken in Northern Ireland we shall not get the credit we deserve for the improved quality of Irish whiskey. It seems to me that this measure could be fitted in with the agreement made recently in London for mutual negotiation and common action. It is our mutual duty to improve the quality of Irish whiskey and to obtain an export market. I do not want to delay the passage of this Bill, which in its purpose is good, and I do not want to inconvenience the trade. It is, however, an incomplete measure, and I would suggest that the Minister get in touch with the responsible authorities in Northern Ireland with a view to getting them to adopt a similar measure. It will help both and cannot injure either.

Is the Deputy aware that there is pot-still whiskey manufactured in Northern Ireland?

The Deputy is not.

Deputy Byrne's question is one which he might repeat on the Finance Bill, as I do not think that it arises in connection with this Bill. The question of taking direct action towards increasing the reputation of Irish whiskey outside is a bigger one, and is one which, perhaps, will have to be thought over a good deal. What we feel we can do is, to increase the reputation here. We find people complaining of the quality of whiskey here, and we are taking steps to see that there shall be no grounds for such complaint. The question of going further is a matter that needs to be thought over. I do not know whether anything could be done in regard to Northern Ireland. The greater quantity of whiskey made there is patent whiskey. If that whiskey improves at all during the three years' period, it does not improve to anything like the same extent as pot-still improves. It is, in fact, a different article.

Will it not be possible, under this measure, to have patent still whiskey coming here from Northern Ireland and sold more cheaply than Saorstát whiskey?

It would have to be kept for five years, and in the greater part of that period it would not be improving.

Motion put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Friday, 4th June, 1926.