As I glanced through the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance, and as I listened with no little care to the speech of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, I began to wonder whether we were discussing, as the motion on the Order Paper says, the standard of living of this community, or whether we were dealing with some completely foreign community altogether; whether we were discussing the affairs of the Irish Free State and the standard of living of the citizens of this State, or whether we were dealing with Kamchatka or Greenland or some place equally remote.
This is not a debate in which we want extracts from statistical figures. It is not a debate in which we rely upon figures at all. It is a debate in which every Deputy can readily come to a definite conclusion. It is a debate in which every Deputy who does his work as a Deputy, who knows the conditions of the people who have sent him to this House, and who knows the affairs of his constituency, can form an opinion for himself and can arrive at a sounder, a truer and a better-based conclusion by reason of his knowledge of existing conditions than he can from any figures which may be quoted from statistical abstracts or any other like documents.
I am not interested in general flights into the theory of political economy. I am not going to delay the time of the House or the procedure of this debate by pointing out that the Parliamentary Secretary, in attending the Barrington lectures which, I understand, he attended at one time, managed to pick up a very small, a very scattered and an entirely inaccurate knowledge of the dismal science of political economy. I prefer to appeal in this debate very much more to the knowledge that every Deputy has got of conditions in this State. If the State is flourishing so wonderfully and if everyone is so rich as the Minister for Industry and Commerce would ask us to believe, why are those things not borne out by the reports we have day by day from all parts of the country?
Our experience tells us that this country is getting poorer and poorer and that the inhabitants are getting poorer and poorer, and yet the Minister for Industry and Commerce would like us to believe that everybody is flourishing and that it is quite easy to carry on in this State; that the cost of living is not rising to any appreciable degree. If that is so, I would like to have some answer from the Government as to why it is that from body after body in the State you get a cry for increased pay or increased salary on the ground that the cost of living is getting so high that people are unable to carry on. Is it a fact that there is the strongest agitation at the present moment, sufficiently vocal to be heard at almost every street corner and to be read in almost every paper, on the part of the national teachers, demanding that their salaries should be increased, that their cuts, as they say, should be restored, on the ground that they cannot make ends meet owing to the increased cost of living? Is that wrong? Is that faked or engineered, and, if so, by whom?
Does any Deputy on the Fianna Fáil Benches deny that such an agitation is going on? Were there not questions in the House about it? Are these people entirely mistaken and is the Minister for Industry and Commerce right? Are they all flourishing, and is living just as easy for them now as it was three or four years ago? If so, I should like to know what is the meaning of the intensity of their agitation. Surely, better than any figures that can be produced and any argument that can be drawn from any figures, is the practical knowledge that where these people were some time ago able to make ends meet, they cannot do so now? The answer to that is that it is due to the increased cost of living. But they are not the only persons. You find that, perhaps not so loudly or vigorously put, but at the same time just as deep and just as determined, there is an agitation going on by the Civic Guards to have their pay increased, their cuts restored, so that they will be put back to the pay they had at an earlier date. On what ground do they base that? Upon precisely the same ground that the national teachers base their claim— that their pay is not now sufficient for them to make ends meet owing to the increased cost of living. Is that a genuine cry on their part? Are they in earnest in it? I do not think that anybody can doubt that it is a very genuine cry, that they really are speaking because they feel the pinch and that they have become vocal simply because the pinch has made them vocal. Take these two classes. One can speak as loudly as it likes. The other class speaks more hesitatingly owing to its position. But does anybody believe that these two classes, making their demand upon the same ground—the high cost of living— are not perfectly genuine in their demands? Against the practical experience of these two classes—the teachers and the Guards—are you going to put the speeches of the Minister for Industry and Commerce?
I notice that what has been said in this debate has had a considerable effect upon the Minister for Industry and Commerce, because the speech which he delivered in this House is very different in tone from that of his two speeches which he delivered the other night—one in Dublin and the other in Cork. When he was speaking in this House, everything was rosy, everything was for the best in this best of all possible countries. Outside, his tone was entirely different. Inside the House, the country was progressing in a wonderful way; more motor cars were being bought and because of that the country was extremely rich, there could be no poverty and the cost of living could not be hitting people at all. I wonder if anybody would walk in to a bank manager and say: "I am a very rich man; I own a motor car; you are entirely mistaken when you think I have an overdraft. Everybody who owns a motor car, according to the Minister for Industry and Commerce, is rich and, therefore, nobody who owns a motor car could possibly have an overdraft. Your book-keeping must, therefore, be wrong." Would that have very much effect on the bank manager? I wonder if the bank manager would be inclined to wipe out the overdraft simply on the theory that a man who owns a motor car must be very rich. That is the sort of argument which the Minister for Industry and Commerce, when inside this House, draws from statistics. Outside the House, his argument is completely different. Outside the House, he admits that the country is going very badly. He says, in effect, that a favourable answer cannot be given to the cry of the teachers and the Guards. He says that no money is now available without extra taxation and that extra taxation can be imposed only to relieve the unemployed, that no other case is so urgent. If this country is so rich as we were told it was and if the revenue is so buoyant as it was represented to be, why should it be necessary to put on extra taxation to raise a sum of £250,000, which was the figure given, roughly, by the Minister. Outside the House, the Minister changes the attitude which was taken up by himself and his whole Party. He goes back upon speech after speech made from the Fianna Fáil benches. At long last, he is a convert, though a somewhat belated one. He preaches the doctrine which. again and again, has been preached from these benches. What was denounced on our part as unsound and unnational is now preached by the Minister for Industry and Commerce himself. We have stated, again and again, that this country can only prosper if its main industry—the agricultural industry—is put and kept in a flourishing condition. We have, again and again, stated that, if this country be deprived of its main market, it is impossible for it to carry on successfully. In season and out of season, we have preached that doctrine. We have never tired of preaching it. On the other hand, the opposite doctrine has been preached, time and again, from the Fianna Fáil Benches. To begin with, we were told that the loss of our principal market was a blessing in disguise. We were told that it would hurry up the great transition which the Government wanted to effect. We combated these views and said they were entirely false. Now, we find that the Minister is a belated convert. I wonder if he has converted the Deputies on his benches. We have the statement that it is necessary for this country to increase its export to the British market. The Minister combined that with a statement which was very false. The Minister for Industry and Commerce has got a very faithless servant in his memory. It is unfortunate that he should have such a terribly bad recollection. The Minister stated in his speech in Dublin that, at the instance of the members on this side of the House, the British Government put taxes on stuff going from this country into the British market. That statement is entirely false. There is not the slightest shred of foundation for it. It is a figment of the Minister's imagination, as I think members of the Fianna Fáil Party and everybody else knows. The memory of the Minister played him false. In this House the leader of his Party proudly declared that he fired the first shot in the economic war.