The Deputy seemed to anticipate that we would have some difficulty in accepting this motion. He said that if the motion was moved three months ago we would have voted for it. We have not changed our policy or outlook on social problems overnight, and so far as the principle in the motion is the principle that we stood for at the general election, the principle we were elected to implement, we are accepting it. Let us examine what it is. The Dáil is asked to state its opinion that steps should be taken forthwith by the Executive Council to provide work or maintenance to meet the immediate needs of the unemployed.
The members of this Government have always taken the view that if the system of industrial organisation, which the State permits to operate, and protects in its operation, is not capable of providing opportunities for work, for all who are able to work, then provision out of the general resources must be made for those who, in consequence of their inability to find work, are unable to provide for themselves. In modern conditions, in fact, since the creation of the world, it has always been the rule that people provided for their necessities by working for them. "In the sweat of their brow did they eat bread." If that is to continue, if people are to be enabled to provide for themselves and their dependents only by being given the opportunity to work, then, undoubtedly, we accept it, as a direct obligation on the Government, to see that work is provided.
Deputy Morrissey has spoken about the gravity of the unemployment problem. It is, perhaps, useful that we should have this opportunity of informing the general public exactly how grave the unemployment problem is, because it is only when all classes realise its exact dimensions that we will be able to get the necessary wholehearted co-operation from them in the successful operation of the plans devised to deal with it. In the past there was, rightly or wrongly, some tendency to represent the problem as being of smaller magnitude than some of us, in fact, believed it to be. We have got to change that outlook. I do not say that any useful purpose would be served by exaggerating the problem, but it is important that we should have an exact and true idea of its size so that we will know exactly what is to be done in order to solve it.
For a number of years the numbers of persons registered as unemployed at the Labour Exchanges hovered round 20,000. We never accepted that number as representing the total volume of unemployed, but we did accept it in its fluctuations as an index to the volume of unemployment. If the number of registered unemployed increased, we could assume that the total number of unemployed increased. Similarly, if the registered number of unemployed diminished, we could assume that there was some diminution in the total number of unemployed. There has been a very substantial increase in the number of registered unemployed. It is now approximately 31,000. It may be that that figure is not entirely comparable with the earlier figures, because the Department of Industry and Commerce and I, personally, have been endeavouring to induce all unemployed to register at the Exchanges. I have met deputations from labour unions and in public speech and in various Press announcements, I have endeavoured to impress on the unemployed the advantage it would be if they registered at the Exchanges. I would like to take this opportunity to repeat what I have already said in this matter, that if we get all the unemployed registered at the Exchanges we will not merely have an accurate picture of our problem, but it will also enable us to make a more systematic attempt to deal with it.
The motion, however, asks us to do two things in relation to these unemployed, to provide them with work or with maintenance. Let us take the question of maintenance first. To some extent, the principle that persons who are unable to provide for themselves should be provided for by the State is accepted, and has been always accepted here during the lifetime of this State. Provision has been made for them, one way or another, by a system of Unemployment Insurance Acts, Old Age Pension Acts, by relief grants under the poor law and otherwise. The questions we have to consider, therefore, are not so much whether a new principle is to be brought into operation, as to whether the existing methods of giving effect to that principle are efficient, in all the circumstances existing, and whether the provision made is adequate.
There is, undoubtedly, a strong case to be made for the revision of the machinery by which relief of one kind or another is administered. Various aspects of that question are at present being considered in the different Government Departments. It is obvious, however, that that examination must take some time, and the preparation of legislation to give effect to any conclusions arrived at will take still further time. I, for one, do not think it wise that we should delay patching up an existing system while waiting for a better one. There is an old proverb that the best is the enemy of the good, and while we are waiting for the elaboration of what Deputies might consider the best system, in relation to our resources, and our needs, of dealing with unemployment and destitution, it is our view that such amendments in the existing arrangements as can be conveniently made should be proceeded with.
It is on that basis that legislation to amend the Unemployment Insurance Acts is being prepared and that the question of provision for widows and orphans and similar questions are being proceeded with. The Government, of course, does not accept the view that our industrial organisation is not capable of providing work for all our people, if adequate steps were taken for its development and improvement. I think it will be accepted as axiomatic that the real solution for the problem of unemployment is the provision of work, and not the provision of maintenance. When we come to consider this question of the provision of work, we find that our problem is divided into two parts, the long run solution and the short run solution. In the allocation of the functions of Government, between the various Departments, the Department of Industry and Commerce acquires responsibility largely for what I might call the long run solution, the provision of permanent employment. The main administrative responsibility in respect of the short run solution, that is, the provision of administrative relief, falls mainly to certain other Departments.
In the Department of Industry and Commerce work upon the long run solution is at present in progress. In other words, we are endeavouring to push forward industrial development so that permanent employment may be found for all or most of those who are now idle. During the past five years, and Deputies should not forget that the Government has only been in office for five weeks, the circumstances of all, or nearly all, existing industries have been examined in considerable detail and their development possibilities explored and discussed with representatives of the trade associations concerned, not merely the associations of employers but, in the case of a number of these industries, in relation to associations of the workers as well. Various decisions have already been made and will be submitted to the Dáil in due course. For obvious reasons, it is undesirable that the nature of some of these decisions should be communicated at this stage.
In addition the possibilities of establishing new industries are being investigated. I mean industries which do not exist here now such as that referred to by Deputy Finlay in his question here to-day—the cement industry. We are satisfied of the possibilities of getting them, and a number of other industries not now existing in the country, established here within a reasonable period and plans are being elaborated to that end. We are endeavouring to inaugurate a system of general planning of industrial development so that progress can continue, once started, uniformly over all fronts, if I might say so, and that one part of the system will not outrun the other, so that we will be able to direct our energies, in so far as it is possible for us to do so, and the resources of the country, into channels in which they are likely to be most effective in the immediate circumstances.
I agree with what has been said that unemployment need not exist here. I always had the opinion that unemployment in this country was due mainly to misdirection, bad industrial organisation or some such man-made cause. The additional information which it has been possible to acquire with the assistance of the Government Departments at our disposal, has only convinced me in that view. It is true that the world depression has produced its reactions here to some extent. An increase in the volume of unemployment has been due to that world depression but, despite all that may be said in that connection, I am more than satisfied that unemployment, as we now know it in this country, can be remedied, and it is the intention of the Government, in so far as its ability will permit it to do it, to find that remedy and to give effect to it.
It may be that we will fail. We are prepared, however, to stand over our efforts, and if we find that our views are mistaken or that we as individuals are incapable of effectively working out that policy, then we will not stand in the way of some other group who may wish to attempt the task in which we have failed. It is, of course, quite true to say that while these long-run solutions of the problem are being worked out, the unemployed must exist, and, in so far as it is possible to do so, work must be found for them in the near future. There are men unemployed to-day for whom, if we could, we would be all very glad to provide work to-morrow or the next day. Each day out of work is an additional day's misery for them. In these circumstances we have been investigating what it is possible for us to do. It is possible in the course of any debate that may follow that some other speakers on these benches may be able to give more detailed information in that connection than I have had at my disposal. But, generally speaking, our aim has been to proceed as rapidly as possible with all the work in hands in the various Government Departments. In other words, to take the year's programme as set out in the Estimates, and endeavour to complete it in shorter time, and in addition to give effect to other projects of an extremely useful nature which have been hanging fire for some time. In order to ensure co-ordination in that work and to prevent overlapping and to make certain that there will be no wastage, and that the maximum results in employment will be obtained, the entire task is being planned out under the direction of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Hugo Flinn.
In addition to these schemes of work to which I have referred, and which are available in the various departments, which are being tabulated, some other projects are being devised concerning which, however, it is not possible to give information at this stage. But Deputies will have a much clearer idea as to the extent to which it is possible to proceed along these lines with the introduction of the Budget statement in the near future. It is, of course, correct that housing is one of the means by which widespread employment can be given. The Government Housing Board policy is being worked out in the Department of Local Government and it will be brought into operation as soon as possible.
[An Leas-Cheann Comhairle took the Chair.]
In the meantime, however, we are anxious that housing programmes in hand, or under contemplation, should be pushed ahead. The question of the facilities which can be given to local authorities is being considered, and it is hoped that the Government will be able to help them to proceed more rapidly and with larger schemes than in the past. But again, because of the circumstances of the time, definite announcements must be postponed. I think Deputy Morrissey must appreciate that this motion has probably been introduced in the Dáil at a most awkward time.