A Chinn Comhairle, the policy enshrined in the Railway and Transport Bill is a complete repudiation and reversal of the transport policy of the Fianna Fáil Party as declared by the Minister in this House and in the country during the past two general elections. Deputy Norton quoted at length from documents of this House and from reports of speeches made by the Minister outside the House, quite clearly showing to those who are concerned that the Minister for Industry and Commerce, when he was shadow Minister in opposition in this House and when speaking for his Party in the country in February, 1932, committed himself and his Party to a solution of this important problem along the lines of unification under public ownership. There is nothing in either of those Bills to show that that promise, given in this House on behalf of the Party, and that pledge given to the people of the country previous to the general election, are being honoured. There is nothing in either of the two Bills to show that the Minister is anxious to solve the problem along the lines of unification under public ownership, or along the lines of compulsory unification under private management.
Deputy Norton quoted the Minister, and speeches made by the Minister in this House in 1932, and also quoted from his speech reported in the "Irish Press," which was delivered by the Minister on 9th February, 1932, and previous to the general election of that year. I go back still further to quote the Minister, and to quote him as having spoken in this House on the 13th June, 1929. I quote from Col. 1378 of a debate in which the Minister took part on that date in connection with the Vote for the Department of Industry and Commerce. The Minister said, amongst other things:
"The railways have fixed assets. They have the lines, the stations, etc., whereas the omnibus companies own only omnibuses. These have a limited life, and I believe very little hardship would be imposed on anybody if it were enacted that after a particular date, let it be one year or eighteen months ahead, the sole right of running public services on the roads would be vested in that transport board, the establishment of which we suggest."
Where is the provision for the establishment of a transport board in any section of either of the two Bills now under discussion? Where is the provision for the central or co-ordinating authority that must be set up if we are to have a nationally owned reorganised transport service? The Minister, speaking in the House yesterday, is reported in the "Irish Press" to have said:
"It is clear that if the railways are to be maintained and play their part, if only under modern conditions, they must be made part of a wider and centrally controlled transport organisation."
Where is the central control provided in this Bill? The only control I can see, and which the Minister asks for in this Bill, is the power of a dictator, the power first of all to close down, what he has acknowledged in his speech to my amazement, large sections of branch lines of the Great Southern system, to disemploy hundreds or perhaps more railway men without any certainty of giving them compensation, and to write down by from 15 per cent. to 90 per cent. capital amounting to £26,000,000, subscribed by Irish citizens. I should like that the railway workers of this country, who are still in employment in that industry which in 1924 gave employment to 20,898 citizens of this State, and also railway shareholders, who still have an interest in the preservation of the Irish railways, to purchase a copy of the Official Report of the Minister's speech made in this House yesterday, and to try and find in any sentence or paragraph of that speech anything which would indicate that the Minister had or held or ever held pro-railway views. In March, 1925, as I said, there were 20,898 able-bodied citizens of this State employed under trade union conditions in the railway industry. In March, 1932, that number was reduced to 14,128. Since March, 1932—the Minister I am sure will be able to confirm this from the records of his own Department— another 1,000 have been added to the list of the unemployed as far as the railway industry is concerned— another 1,000 without having received the compensation which they were originally promised under the Amalgamation Act of 1924.
Now, apart altogether from the speeches and the promises which were made by the Minister when he was a shadow Minister in this House and outside the House on behalf of his Party, I want to say this: I have been listening to members here in this House challenging President de Valera as to his right to proceed on certain lines in regard to the Land Commission annuity question, as to his policy and as to the advisability of his policy. President de Valera on all occasions, and perhaps rightly, clearly pointed out that he had a mandate from the people to proceed on the lines he was going on. I want to suggest that what President de Valera asked for, the Minister for Industry and Commerce, on his behalf, also asked for, and got as clear a mandate to proceed on certain lines for the solution of this particular problem as he did on the question of the Oath and the Land Commission annuities. I should like to hear from the President, if he speaks in this debate, what justification there is for a change of policy in view of these very definite pledges announced by his Minister for Industry and Commerce. The people to whom these pledges were given, and the people who accepted these pledges, are certainly entitled to some explanation, and also the people who are likely to lose, as I am certain they will lose, their employment on the railways.
We are told, and I am still prepared to believe it, but one has to make certain mental reservations, that the plan and policy of the Fianna Fáil Party is to build up a new economic structure in this State. Does anybody seriously suggest that they can erect that new economic structure which they have in mind while they have the banking and credit system of this country under private control and ownership, and while leaving the transport system in the hands of the people, who have mismanaged the transport services of this State already? If you are going to build up a new economic structure in this State you will have to have more control over the banking system, and you will have to have more control than you are asking for in this Bill over the transport system.
Before Fianna Fáil came into this House the members of this Party gladly supported Deputy McGilligan, then Minister for Industry and Commerce, in taking control of the water power resources of this country. That was a step which was taken at a time when you had the Seanad much more reactionary than what it is to-day; that was a bold and courageous step taken at a time when there were no Fianna Fáil members in the Seanad, and when there were very few Labour members there. The Minister for Industry and Commerce came along yesterday and suggested—and I would not mind if it were at the cross-roads during the election—that the real reason he could not go forward on the lines of the policy previously announced was that there was not a majority in the Seanad. I remember hearing the Minister making that statement to a private conference at which I was present, but I never thought that he would come to this House and try and thrust that argument down the throats of intelligent Deputies. As Deputy Norton pointed out, he did not consider the position of the Party in the Seanad when he sent other Bills to that institution. He did not consider the likelihood of other measures being held up by the Seanad. Are we to understand that the policy of the Fianna Fáil Government in the future, and the programme of legislation which they are going to present to this House, will be considered in the light of what the majority of the members of the Seanad are likely to do with those measures? I would ask the Minister for Industry and Commerce does he know what the Seanad is likely to do with the Land (Purchase Annuities Fund) Bill? If he was assured by somebody that was in a position to advise him that the majority of the members of the Seanad would throw out that Bill, would he give the same reason for refusing to present it to the House as he has given for refusing to proceed along the lines of his stated policy in regard to the solution of the transport problem? That kind of argument is all very well to use at a cross-roads meeting to a gathering of people during election time where the individuals listening to the Minister would not understand the actual position of the Seanad in relation to the constitution of this State. I am not accepting that argument as a sound argument for the refusal of the Government to proceed along the lines previously announced here and elsewhere.
The Minister stated—I am glad he did so—in relation to the Railways Bill that it was not designed to save the railways. That is certainly a plain and straightforward statement. It makes it quite clear that the Minister never had any right to anticipate the introduction, as promised, of pro-railway legislation into this House. This is not a pro-railway Bill. It is a Bill for the partial destruction of the existing railway system. I refer to the proposal contained in it in regard to the writing down of capital. That is a matter upon which members in other parts of the House would have a better right to speak than I would, but I just want to draw the attention of Deputies concerned to the proposals presented to the Government and published in the newspapers in regard to the purchase of the railways by the State: proposals which were presented to Deputy Cosgrave when he was President, and subsequently to President de Valera and the Minister for Industry and Commerce. I would like to draw attention to this: that the Minister, apparently without any consultation with financial experts and without, as he has stated, agreement with the people who have financial interests in the company, has put in certain proposals in this Bill. Now, I would like to quote from the proposals which we presented to the same Minister the conditions under which we suggested that the railways should be purchased by the State for the people and run as a national industry, as was originally intended, to be run under public ownership by the Fianna Fáil Government. We suggested that:]
the price would be based on the Stock Exchange quotations over a specified period where such existed, and in other cases by agreement between the owners of such undertakings and the Minister with the approval of the Minister for Finance or, in default of agreement, to be settled by a transport arbitration tribunal.
At any rate the suggestion put forward by the Labour Party in regard to the acquisition by the State of the railways was on the basis of the Stock Exchange value of the various stocks over a given period, and we suggested that the period should be not less than three and not more than five years. That may be of interest to Deputies who sit in certain parts of this House and who have repeatedly suggested that the Labour Party stood for a policy of confiscation.
I said that this Bill had not even proposed the unification of the transport services under private management. The Minister is, I think, wrongly reported in the "Irish Press" as to what he said in the House yesterday in regard to this matter. He is reported in the "Irish Press" to-day as having said in regard to this matter:—
"It (that is, the Railway Bill) definitely required that the road services owned by the Great Southern Railways Company should be brought under the same management and control as the railway service of the company."
Will the Minister, when replying, point to any section of the Railway Bill which would indicate that that was the policy: that it was his definite desire and intention to have the road services which were purchased by the shareholders of the Great Southern Railways Company run under the direct control and management of the traffic or general manager, of the Railway Company? The Minister is well aware that the Railway Company, or the directors of the Railway Company, out of the shareholders' money purchased the I.O.C. and Messrs. John Wallis and Co. some years ago. Notwithstanding what may be said to the contrary, I am in a position to repeat what has been said here and elsewhere before: that the firm of Messrs. John Wallis and Co., although owned by the shareholders of the Great Southern Railways Company, has been running in open competition with the railway system itself. I believe that if the Minister consults the files in his own Department he will find evidence to support that. I understand the statement that was made by me in this House to that effect some time ago was subsequently denied in very plausible and very vague language by the general manager of the Great Southern Railways Company, but if further evidence of that policy and that procedure is required by the Minister I undertake here and now to see that it is supplied to him.
Why should any transport company, in particular a railway company, have road services, whether passenger or commercial lorries, without having those services under the direct control and management of the company that is supposed to own them? I have listened to people quoting cases where the clerical staffs of the Great Southern Railways Company have been instructed to go out and canvass for traffic for Messrs John Wallis and Company. Is it any wonder, with a policy of that kind, that the railway system is being wiped out and that the Minister is now suggesting that certain sections of it can be closed down even without any inquiry?
I now come to that portion of the Railways Bill that deals with the number of directors. The Minister was quoted at length by Deputy Norton yesterday as having expressed the opinion that the management of the company, under the present system, was inefficient. A statement of a more drastic character, but along the same lines, was made by Senator Connolly some short time ago. We have here in this Railways Bill a proposal to continue in existence the very same people and the very same system which has brought the railway industry to the verge of bankruptcy. The proposal in the Bill is to reduce the number of directors to seven. Sir Walter Nugent, speaking at a shareholders' meeting the other day informed them, according to the report of his speech that appeared in the newspapers the following morning, that that suggestion was put forward to the Minister's predecessor, and stated that the Board were willing themselves, strange to say, to have the number reduced to eight, the minimum to be six. He suggested that the present Minister for Industry and Commerce is merely splitting the difference.
I think you are not going to have under private ownership an efficient directorate unless the number is considerably reduced. The Labour Party feels that the number should be reduced to three, and that it certainly should not exceed five. Does the Minister believe that a body of directors which up to some time ago consisted of individuals, some of whom had reached the age of 89, are the best and most efficient that can be found to manage a transport system under modern conditions? Does he suggest that any man at the age of 89 could possibly have a proper outlook on the present transport needs of the people? One director at the age of 89 died in harness only a short time ago. I am informed that whenever he went to the directors' meetings he said nothing, but attended the luncheon held subsequently. We suggest that the number should not exceed five under any circumstances. I hope the Minister will agree to reduce the number and accept an amendment to that effect on the Committee Stage of the Bill.
The Minister is quoted by Sir Walter Nugent as having "courteously intimated his willingness to consider reasonable amendments, the acceptance of which may modify existing impressions." Imagine the Minister giving that very courteous intimation to the chairman of the company after having accepted the company's Bill practically in its entirety with two or three exceptions. This is not the Minister's Bill; it is the Railway Company's Bill with two or three exceptions. I should like to ask the Minister will he accept an amendment fixing a maximum age for the directors of the company who will have the grave responsibility of bringing this industry out of chaos? The reason I make this request is that the directors have made a regulation that all servants of the company, whether "quill drivers" or engine drivers, have a maximum retiring age fixed-60 years of age in the case of the "quill drivers" and 65 in the case of the engine drivers. Surely, if the directors of the company think that their own employees are either mentally or physically unfit to carry on the work of the railway after a certain age, the same argument is good, and has perhaps greater force, for those who are giving the directions themselves. I suggest that it would be in the interest of the company itself to have a maximum age fixed and that the shareholders would be well advised to see that the Minister inserts some maximum rather than that an old man should die in harness at the age of 89.
There is a proposal also in this same section of the Bill that the next election for the new Board after the passing of the Bill shall be under the new system of ballot voting and I compliment the Minister on inserting that. I think that the election of the new Board should not be delayed until the next annual meeting. There are good reasons why the election should take place as soon as possible or as soon as convenient and I would urge on the Minister to see that the election of the new Board should be within at least six months from the date of the passing of this measure.
I come now to Section 8—that portion of the Bill which is undoubtedly the company's section as a whole and in which the Minister asks for powers from this House, without any previous inquiry, for the closing down of branch lines of the Great Southern Railways' system. When I read this Bill I thought it was a fairly bad Bill, but I was certainly amazed to hear the Minister's own explanation of this section and to hear him claim the powers to close down large sections of the branch lines without any previous inquiry of any kind. Sir Walter Nugent, I understand, at the shareholders' meeting the other day, informed the shareholders that he had put up a similar proposal to Deputy McGilligan when that Deputy was Minister for Industry and Commerce, and he expressed his gratitude to the present Minister for having now accepted a proposal which, I understood him to say, was turned down previously by Deputy McGilligan. The whole of Section 8 of this Bill is the company's proposal, not modified as far as I know by the Minister after having received it from the company. I would not have the same objection to the claim put forward for the inclusion of Section 8, if the Minister would agree that a public inquiry should be held beforehand at the expense of the company, and that interested parties— parties interested in the preservation of the railway system, traders in the locality concerned, travellers on the line and others likely to be affected by the closing down of the branch lines— should have an opportunity of stating their case.
The Minister asks for dictatorial powers and I am certainly not prepared to give such dictatorial powers to him, especially in view of the unfortunate statement which he made here yesterday. I asked him how many, if any, applications he had received from the railway company for the closing down of these lines, and he said none up to the present, but that he had received six or seven applications for the reduction of the services. But he said that he was convinced that a good case could be made out for the closing down of certain branch lines, and when it was suggested to him that there were objections to the closing down he advised Deputies not to bring these opposing such applications to him. Will the Minister be good enough to say where he got that information, and whether he has examined the figures submitted by the company, and whether he reserves the right to tell them, when they come in with objections, that he will close down these branch lines and will not listen to any objections? It is a most unfortunate situation that he should pre-judge a situation of that kind in that manner, especially when he admitted that he had not received any application of the kind up to the present. I have been approached, as several Deputies in this House have been approached, affecting a proposal of that kind, concerning my own constituency. Deputy Moore almost wept tears of blood here yesterday evening at the closing down of what he called the Tullow section. He counterbalanced that, of course, in another part of his speech by weeping for the poor farmer living in some by-road who would not be able to get his cattle or sheep or pigs along that by-road to whatever fair he wanted to bring them without a motor lorry. May I remind Deputy Moore that he lived in a part of the country where there were no lorries in the old days and when the good old horse and cart were good enough to bring the cattle and the sheep and pigs to the fairs? I know he was born and reared in circumstances which compel him to realise that there are other ways and means, as there were in the old days, of getting cattle and sheep and pigs to the fairs and markets without having to get them out along a by-road in a motor lorry. I wonder did Deputy Moore have any information from the Minister that that particular line is likely to be one of the first to be cut off, and is that the reason Deputy Moore objected to that part of the Minister's statement? I suspect that the Minister had been in previous consultation with Deputy Moore and informed the Deputy that this is one of the lines likely to go, and that that is why the Deputy wept tears about a section that cut across portion of his own constituency. If that branch line closes down and results in the unemployment of the men engaged there, I would advise the railwaymen who may lose their employment by the closing down of that branch line to look to Deputy Moore for consolation if they do not get compensation.
The Minister, in this section of the Bill, in his usual eloquent style, has assured us that all the railwaymen who may lose their employment as a result of the closing down of these branch lines would be provided with compensation. I want to tell the House that the sub-section of this section of the Bill which proposes to provide compensation for those who may lose their employment through the closing down of the lines is certainly copied from the Company's Bill. There is no doubt about that. I want to point out to the Minister that the Railway Company can find many ways and means of evading this section, and can find many ways and means of depriving railwaymen, who lose their employment as the result of the closing down, of the compensation which the Minister promises them under this section of this Bill. Every railwayman of every grade is, and can be transferred from one point to any other point of the company's system, and I venture to suggest that most of the men who are now employed on these lines have been transferred at some time or other during past years from a main line to a branch line, or from a branch line to a main line. The company have always had the right to transfer employees from any one part of the system to any other.
Does the Minister deny that under the reading of this sub-section, promising compensation to those who may be dismissed, the company could not, a day, a week, or a month before the line would be closed down, transfer the employees from the section of the line that is going to be closed down, to the main line or some other section that was not going to be closed down, thereby evading the obligation placed on them under the terms of the section? If the company decided that they were going to close a branch line at any particular date and the Minister sanctioned their proposal, they could easily evade the obligation by transferring the employees concerned, merely leaving a skeleton staff on the branch line on the day it was closed down. Having transferred the employees to the main line or some other section, they could on the day after the branch line was closed give notice of dismissal to the people who were transferred, and there would be then no compensation for them under any conditions. I pointed out the amounts of compensation that were provided under the 1924 Act. I think the Minister can get particulars as to the number of employees who have been denied compensation as a result of methods of that kind.
One clause in the Bill has been introduced by the Minister to the amazement of railwaymen in this country. That is sub-section (d) of Section 8, which states:
Such railway company may, notwithstanding any agreement or practice as to the dismissal (in cases of redundancy of employees) of the latest employed of its employees or as to the division of such railway company's railway system into districts for the purpose of the promotion or dismissal of employees, redistribute its employees in such manner as appears to such railway company to be proper, but not so as to impose any undue or unnecessary hardship on the employees of such railway company.
I am amazed that the Minister should in a Bill of this kind bring in a sub-section which would cut across and smash an existing agreement between the unions and the railway companies. The Minister denied yesterday that that was the intention. The Minister knows perfectly well, and he has plenty of communications in his Department to show it, that the method adopted in getting rid of redundant employees was "last man in, first man out." That has been an agreed policy between the unions and the railway companies. When the Minister was in Ottawa last year, the present general manager of the Great Southern Railways Company challenged that particular procedure. In company with other colleagues I was appointed to wait on Senator Connolly, who was then acting Minister in the absence of the Minister himself. After having explained to him the arrangements which were in existence between the unions and the companies, Senator Connolly—and I am very glad to have to say so in this House, as I already said at meetings of members of the unions—stoutly stood behind the principle of getting rid of redundant employees by adopting the method of "last man in, first man out."
This agreement has been arrived at between the unions and the companies after years of agitation, aye, and in some cases industrial action, and the Minister may take it from me—and I am speaking for the unions in this matter—that we are not going to allow this section to remain in the Bill if we can get it cut out. The general manager, as I say, proceeded to challenge this procedure. He was told by members of the Board that the policy should be to "sack the duds." Who would be the duds in such circumstances? They would be the members of the staff against whom the departmental head had a grudge. The duds would certainly never be members of the staff who held the membership card of the famous Molesworth Street Club, and they would certainly never be members of the staff who had acted as blacklegs during industrial disputes. We have a few monuments of that kind as a result of the work of managers in the old days, and the unions are not going to allow this procedure to be challenged by an Act of this House, or to allow an agreement of that kind to be smashed. If necessary, I shall give an opportunity to members of the House to put their names on record in the Division Lobby as to whether they stand for this policy or not. Sack the duds! Of course the general manager of the Railway Company, in explaining that particular sub-section to the Minister, did not explain that that was the policy in the past, and that that was the procedure before the unions became strong enough to challenge it. I think there is no fairer method to get rid of redundant employees than to adopt the policy of "last man in, first man out."
I should like the Minister to say what were the grounds which influenced him in turning down the method which his acting Minister stood over during his absence in Ottawa. There seems to be some conflict of opinion, and the only explanation I can suggest is that the Minister accepted this Section 8 from the Railway Company without getting any explanation. I suggest to the Minister that it would not be unfair to ask him whether he sought the opinion of any union leader or secretary before he put that section in the Bill. If he thought it right and fit to consult the general manager and directors of the railway company, surely it would be only right and fair for him to consult some of the union leaders as to what they thought of this particular proposal put forward by the companies? No matter what they thought, we are not going to accept this sub-section in the form in which it now appears in the Bill. I hope the Minister will, if necessary, after seeing the union leaders on the matter, wipe out this sub-section and leave it to the unions and companies to settle matters of this kind. There are one or two other minor matters to which I wish to refer.