That a committee consisting of 11 Deputies be set up to make recommendations:—
(1) as to how the land and agricultural interests of the nation can best be preserved and assisted during the economic war; and
(2) as to how the economic war can best and most expeditiously be brought to a successful conclusion;
That five Deputies be selected by the chief Opposition Party to represent the Government Party on the said committee;
That four Deputies be selected from the chief Opposition Party by the Government Party to serve on the said committee;
That two Deputies, not being members of the Government or Opposition Parties, be selected by the Government and Opposition Parties combined; and
That, in the event of any of the Parties of the House failing to make the aforementioned selections, the Committee of Selection nominate 11 Deputies to serve on the said committee.
This motion, as is apparent on the face of it, is directed in the first place towards securing some relief for the agricultural industry which is and must remain during the continuance of the economic war, the principal sufferer from that disastrous event. It is directed, in the second place, towards the determination of that extraordinary and mutually destructive condition of affairs, by so far as possible, bringing to bear the utmost pressure which this Dáil, as the sovereign assembly of the Irish people, is capable of exercising. When this very unfortunate condition of affairs was first precipitated while, in Government circles, regret was generally expressed, that regret was tempered by the pious hope that it might eventually prove a blessing in disguise. This hope again was based on apparently two beliefs— first of all, a belief that wholesale tariffs would be imposed on foreign manufactured commodities, particularly commodities manufactured in England, with the whole-hearted consent and the enthusiastic co-operation of the Irish people in whom, it was believed, something like a war frenzy could be aroused and that they could be induced to regard any attempt to criticise that tariff policy as treasonable conduct on the part of the critics. The Government believed that that weapon could be used at the same time to further their own political interests. The second belief on which it was based was, that the British retaliatory tariff policy, being directed mainly against Irish live-stock industry would, on the one hand, assist the Government's own tillage policy and that on the other hand, so far as the adverse repercussions of the economic war were concerned, they would be restricted mainly to the larger farmers, the attacking of whom by such names as graziers, ranchers and grabbers could all be counted upon as good politics in Ireland. If these larger farmers who should happen to have capital—a small minority—could be induced to spend that capital in sending good money after bad, in what in many cases was a futile attempt to hold on to their property, and if at the time those farmers who had no capital or very little capital—the great majority of the big farmers happen to have very little capital—could be induced or forced cut of their holdings, which could then be divided amongst the supporters of the Fianna Fáil Party, then the clouds of the economic war would not be without their silver lining.
With regard to the present Government's industrial policy, which is partly a consequence of the economic war, I do not intend to go into it at any length as it does not arise directly out of this motion. I shall content myself by remarking that two very great powers—one a nation illustrating the extreme expression of Capitalism, the other of Communism—have agreed if, in nothing else, on the method of industrialising a purely agricultural country. Both the United States and Soviet Russia have built up a great industrial arm by increasing their exports of agricultural produce and raw materials—such commodities as wheat, sugar, cotton, tobacco, etc. This is the only country I know, as far as I have read history, where an attempt has been made to build up new industries by curtailing the export trade of the country's greatest and most extensive industry, practically its sole industry—agriculture.
Now, as regards the agricultural policy, I think that it will be generally admitted by all sides that whatever advantages there may be in the wheat-growing policy, it can be no substitute for the live-stock export trade. I think that that is admitted by all sides. Even if we assume that the Government's present policy had reached the peak point of success and that we were now in a position to grow all our own wheat and all our own sugar, or at least all our own sugar and wheat that would be adequate for our own needs, the amount of arable land required for that purpose would be only a small fraction of the arable land in Ireland, and the question then immediately arises: What is to be done with the remainder? Again, it is axiomatic that an increase in the area of tillage or of land under cultivation in the country is bound to lead to an increase in the live-stock population of the country, and if that is the case, what can that lead to eventually unless to a further slaughter of the innocents—more uneconomic calf schemes—if, at the same time, our mature live-stock trade is being curtailed?
There is, economically speaking at all events, no real opposition between the tillage farmer and the live-stock farmer, and no opposition or no antagonism between the larger farmer and the smaller farmer or between any class of farmer and the farm labourer who, individually, receives very little attention from anybody. They are all part and parcel of the same great industry, but just like so many different departments in, say, the Ford factory, all these various sections must sink or swim together and you cannot take them separately; you cannot attack one section and think to destroy that without injuring the others also. I hear a lot of talk in this House and in other places about the rancher. One would imagine that that sort of thing should be worn out long ago. The land war was fought in this country, not in our time, but in the time of our fathers and our grandfathers. In that day, undoubtedly, the rancher was a serious menace to this country and to the people of this nation. To-day, however, the rancher, to all intents and purposes is a thing of the past. I even still hear talk about the rancher, his herd and his dog, but so far as my experience goes, at the present time, the number of farm labourers and grooms and gardeners and various other types of employees employed by such men completely obscures the cases of the man with one herd and a dog. In my experience, those people in most cases spend a great deal more on their land than they take out of it, because they generally had private means and they really subsidised agriculture out of their own private resources. To-day, the Government is spending something like £8,000,000 a year in subsidising agriculture. These people, however, probably subsidised agriculture to as big an extent out of their own pockets, and furthermore, not alone did they do that but they were also subsidising agriculture generally by paying higher prices for live stock than would be paid if the live stock were purchased only by means of the ordinary dealer. In the same way they also helped by paying good prices for hay, oats and root crops generally and by giving employment to the sons of small farmers. It must also be remembered that they were great contributors to rates and taxation generally.
Now, I hold no brief for those people and, as I say, they are practically a thing of the past; but in dealing with a serious situation like the present, it is a very foolish thing to be carried away by purely political catch-cries and not to give due value to all the factors in the situation. We should realise that the people who were engaged in this country in farming in a big way were not altogether a loss, but in many cases an asset. I should also like to make the point that it is not only those people who have suffered through the economic war. In the beginning they were probably the biggest sufferers, but the blow has been passed on since then. As I say, the class of people to whom I am referring are practically a thing of the past, and their disappearance has been due even more to economic circumstances than to the very drastic land legislation which has been carried out in this country, and rightly carried out, during the last 50 years. Before this century was ushered in, however, it was nothing unusual for a County Meath grazier to purchase three and four year old cattle in, say, County Galway, at, let us say, £7 or £8 a head and to sell them after a summer's season on the grass of Meath at £18 or £20. That was the case in those days, because in those days good land was valuable; but things have changed very much since then. To-day, an acre of land in the poorest part of Connemara may well be worth a great deal more than an equal amount of the best land in Meath. The Great War changed the whole position, and since then the value of cattle is regulated, not by what the wealthy or the large farmer is prepared to give, but by what the small farmer, who reared the calf, is prepared to take. At the outset, as I say, it was the large farmer who suffered most, but that depression in agriculture in Ireland did not begin with the economic war; it began in 1921, at the time when the Treaty negotiations were going on. At that time there was a cataclysmic fall in the price of live stock in the spring of that year, and the blow came only in the autumn, and many of those farmers lost as much as £10 and £15 a head on cattle they had purchased in the previous spring. It must also be remembered in this connection, that many of those farmers were paying very high prices for their land which they had hired for grazing purposes on the eleven months' purchase system, and those farmers continued to lose money continuously in that way while still dealing in a falling market. The small farmer, however, escaped that shock because he had already sold his cattle, and even though in subsequent years he did not get as high a price, yet, because he raised his own cattle, or bought them very young and cheap, he was not hurt so much, whereas the larger farmer continued to feel the full force of that depression all along.
The second crisis came when the economic war was started, and it was a decisive blow to a great many of the larger farmers, particularly those who had bought land and paid a high price for it. When that came about the value of live stock was halved. They decided on different ways to meet the difficulty. Some of them tried to reduce the number of stock on their land, and some even went to the extent of not stocking their land at all. That had a repercussion on smaller farmers, who saw no hope of selling any store cattle. Others met the situation by selling their land to the Land Commission. That made it still more difficult for the small farmers. The third way the situation was met was by a change in the system of farming. Because the Government was hostile to their methods large farmers adopted the same system as small farmers, by going into dairying, the growing of corn, and mixed farming, so that small farmers eventually were in a worse position than the large farmers. After the beginning of the economic war it was impossible for farmers to sell their cattle. They stood in the fairs all day, and it was practically only as a charity that they could be got rid of.
I do not know whether agriculture is different to any other industry we have. The success of other industries is understood to depend on specialisation and on the provision of labour. I do not know whether it will prove feasible in the case of agriculture to have the same system of farming adopted throughout the country from Buncrana in Donegal to Bantry Bay in Cork. I would not be surprised if it was eventually found that the revolt against those who specialised in the production of beef and other types of farming had not the same result as the revolt of the members against the belly in the world's oldest fable. However, this so-called economic war has demonstrated that if the larger farmer cannot make a profit on big cattle, the small farmer cannot make a profit on little cattle, and the tillage farmer, unless he receives doles from the Government, cannot make a profit out of his crops, and farm labourers cannot get employment.
The economic war has certainly proved one point that I would like to drive home, that the larger farmer is in the same position as the smaller farmer, except to the extent to which tillage is subsidised by the Government. If that is the position of farmers, how can the lot of the unfortunate agricultural workers be bettered? There is a Bill before the Dáil at present to deal with the position of the agricultural labourers. What can be done by legislation if the money is not there to give the labourers a decent living wage? Before the position of the agricultural labourers can be improved, the agricultural industry as a whole must be improved. The seriousness of our position is shown by the figures dealing with our economic position. I admit that things are not as bad now as when this motion was put down. At that time our adverse trade balance was actually £2,000,000 more than our total export trade. It was an extraordinary state of affairs. There is still a sufficient margin between our exports and imports to make everybody who takes an interest in the affairs of this country look upon the position as extremely grave. We have also a very serious position from the point of view of unemployment. In the agricultural industry alone, the fact that production in recent years is down by a total of £25,000,000 is very serious, but, on top of that, we have to face the fact that taxation since the Fianna Fáil Government came into office has gone up by approximately £4 per head of the population. These facts are certainly deplorable.
There is certainly something ridiculous about the present situation. If there was any justification for it, any great principle at stake, or any great prize to be won, the Irish people are not a people that could be driven to surrender by any form of privation. The question arises: what is it all about? I must say that the longer the economic war lasts the more puzzled I become. It is apparently a war on two fronts, the political front and the economic front. It is certainly serious from our point of view, because there is intense suffering amongst the agricultural population, suffering that has been increased by the higher cost of living which has been passed on to the general public. It is not a matter for joking. It is serious, and the question is, what are we doing to bring this situation to an end? On the economic front, apparently, we have not been able to do anything or to hit back. The relief that was given by the coal-cattle pact was at a time when Great Britain was in rather a difficult position over sanctions, and when the Italians had cancelled orders for coal value for several millions. At that time England was on the verge of a coal strike, but the orders from this country came to the rescue. As regards the economic front, we do not appear to be waging this war with any effect or to make it likely that Great Britain will bow the knee or accept any proposals we make. We have the same situation on the political front. I remember that when the question of sanctions arose our representative in Geneva gave the British every assistance in his power. From the military point of view, this country is not of very much importance, but its moral position is extremely important. Our influence, particularly in the United States, plays a very important part and if that country had adopted sanctions like other powers, the whole position would be changed. That moral support was thrown wholeheartedly behind England in the campaign. There is this position with regard to Spain, that we are standing shoulder to shoulder with Great Britain in whatever her policy happens to be.
I am not criticising that attitude any more than to say that if we are at war then we should adopt a different attitude. If we are not going to have a real war and to fight it seriously, then there is no reason why we should not make peace. I regret that some attempt has not been made to end this whole miserable matter. Can we segregate the two parts? Can we segregate the economic end of it from the political end and settle that, or, better still, why not settle all our troubles together? I am not necessarily talking of a final settlement. It was well said during the Treaty debates—it is a saying that will probably ever remain fresh in the minds of the people—"that this was no more a final settlement than that we are the final generation." We here who are only temporary representatives in what may perhaps be only a temporary Assembly can no more bind the future than we can alter the past. The time in which we have to work and sow and reap is the present, and it is on that that we will be judged. I know that there are a great many people in this country, sincere people whose political convictions are as sacred to them as their religion. I know there are a great many people in this country who would not be prepared to accept any settlement that any British Government could afford to make. I know there are numbers of people in the country who, even if we got to-morrow the fullest measure of freedom that it is possible for any people to enjoy, call it republic or whatever name you like—even if the complete unity of the country were achieved—at the same time would still feel it their duty to resist by every means in their power the advance of any nation flying an Imperial flag. Now there are such people, and Ireland is not the only country that has such people—genuine pacifists and genuine anti-Imperialists. There are such men in England probably more than there are here. George Lansbury, when the question of sanctions against Italy was prominent in England and in spite of the overwhelming opposition of his own Party, did homage to what he believed to be the higher peace than that of Geneva, and deserves credit from everyone who is fair-minded in such matters. Governments must govern according to the standards of their own time. But no Government and no man has the right to proclaim a higher gospel than that of the Almighty Himself—to say: "He may be prepared to permit and suffer evil, but not I; I must insist on stamping it out irrespective of what the cost be to the people whose destinies I control."
I have been in this Dáil ever since it was set up. I have seen many occasions when an offer of co-operation, or the acceptance of an offer of co-operation by Deputies now on the Government Benches, would have altered very much for the better the course of our recent history. I remember the occasion of the Treaty debates when Michael Collins asked to have a Joint Committee of Public Safety established so that peace and order could be preserved in the country during the interregnum between the departure of the British and the establishment of the first native Government in this country. I have in mind also an occasion when a vitally important election was being held in Northern Ireland, an election which was to a great extent going to decide the fate of the boundary, and when an effort was made to face the situation in the North with a united front. If we had got that, while I do not say that we would have no boundary, I think that at all events we would have a better situation than we have at present. I also have in mind the time when the Ultimate Financial Settlement was being negotiated. An appeal was made, if not for co-operation to get the best terms that we could, at least for the charity of silence. On those occasions there was no co-operation. I believe that the present is a situation when such co-operation could not be but helpful, and I believe that no Party as an individual Party could suffer by having it. If we had it, I believe that Ireland as a whole would gain.
In putting down this resolution I have made a slight alteration in the method by which the committee is to be selected if the resolution is accepted. I believe that the findings of such a committee would be much more influential than that of a committee formed in the ordinary way. I think if at all possible the system I propose should be adopted, but if anybody sees an insurmountable obstacle in the way, then the alternative is there. I have put down this resolution in all sincerity, in the interests of the people as a whole, and particularly in the interests of the agricultural community—every section of it from the biggest farmer down to the poorest agricultural labourer. I have put it down in the hope that some solution will be found, first of all to bring the economic war itself to a termination. If that cannot be done immediately, then there is no reason why such a committee could not hammer out some means whereby the present very onerous burdens of this conflict would be put on a broader basis than that on which they rest at present. As I have said, I have put down the resolution in all sincerity, and I believe that if the Dáil accepts it in that spirit it will lead to good results.