After the conclusion of the negotiations with Great Britain and the settlement of the large outstanding questions, except one, between the two countries, everybody was looking forward with a degree of hope and confidence to seeing what the practical results of these negotiations were to be. I think the general feeling was that the Budget speech of the Minister for Finance would give some indication of the practical benefits that would flow to the country from this Agreement. Anybody that had the duty—I shall not say the pleasure—of listening yesterday to the statement of the Minister for Finance must realise how these hopes have been sadly disappointed. We on this side of the House, from the first moment that we heard of these negotiations being entered upon, looked forward, as is quite well known, with great hopes to the result of these negotiations. And for two reasons. We realised, and have realised for a long time past, more clearly, I dereasay, than the members of the Government, the necessity for bringing this senseless struggle between the two nations to an end. Furthermore, there were certain aspects of the way in which the negotiations started that led us to hope that there would be no breakdown. Even when the negotiations dragged on month after month, and when the hopes of many people in the country, as I know from personal contact with them, began to flag, we on this side never gave up the belief that there would be a positive issue from these negotiations.
All through the time when these negotiations were on we considered it our duty to the country in every way to facilitate the Government in their effort to bring these negotiations to a practical conclusion. Even when the Agreement was made, and when we recognised that, if we wanted to do so, Party capital could be made out of the Agreement, as it is quite possible to make out of any Agreement, we determined to scorn precedent, at least precedent in this country, very bad precedent, so far as wide-reaching and most fruitful agreements are concerned, and to do nothing that could in any way be construed as an effort to crab this Agreement or to minimise the good effects that this Agreement might have and be made to have for this country. Our attitude was quite the opposite to such Party manoeuvring. Whatever people may think of the details of this Agreement, let us make the most of it—that has been consistently our attitude. The main thing, the great thing, as I said more than once here, is that the Agreement has been made, and that it has been made by that particular Party led by the present Taoiseach. That is the great thing on which the country can congratulate itself, leaving aside the question of details, or the precise value of this provision or that provision.
But, why did we look forward to this Agreement? Why did we recommend everybody in the country to accept it, to make the most of it, to work it? Because we were anxious that at last this country should have a chance of building up, that instead of dissipating our wealth, as we have been doing in many directions for the past five or six years, we should turn in the opposite direction. It was because we regarded this Agreement as something that gave the country an opportunity of doing that—practically, if I might say so, giving the country a direction to do that, a direction that in many respects it badly needed,— that we determined to recommend the fullest possible acceptance, without any arriére pensée whatsoever, of this Agreement and the fullest possible working of the Agreement.
We realised, and I wish I could be convinced even now that the Government recognises, the amount of leeway that has to be made up in this country. The economic war is at an end. If I might parody a sentiment with which certain people on the opposite side greeted it when it commenced when they said "Thank God it started", we say now "Thank God, it is at an end." But its consequences are not. Though the agreement is there, the Budget yesterday suggests that the Government does not realise the importance of taking the necessary steps to build up the country, now that there is a chance of doing so, now when normal conditions of trade between this country and its principal customer will at least be restored. It was because the people expected an indication of that kind from the Budget statement of yesterday that there was still a considerable element of hope that here at last an opportunity was being given to the Government to indicate how it is going to work this Agreement, how they were going to make good—because they will have to be made good —the losses that have been suffered. I am not going into these losses. Let the past lie. Whether or not these losses were necessary, whether it was necessary to enter into the campaign, whether having entered into the campaign the precise losses inflicted on this country were necessary—I leave all that. What is clear is this: justifiably or unjustifiably these losses were inflicted and you do not by the mere signing of the Agreement bring the country back to a state of normalcy.
The country has now to face, once this dispute is out of the way, the task of making good its losses. We are not starting, so to speak, from scratch. We are starting from behind scratch. It is not merely that we are not in the position that some of the Dominions are in, as the result of having come to an Agreement in 1932 under which they have more than doubled, some of them, their trade with Britain. That is not our position. Our position, as everybody here ought to know, is the direct opposite. A great deal of our trade has been interfered with and has been cut down. At one period it was halved. A great deal of damage was done, a great deal of the wealth of the country was destroyed. I see in this Budget no effort to meet than situation. I see in this Budget speech of the Minister for Finance no indication that the Government is even aware that a situation has to be met. They went to negotiate this Agreement. Having done so, apparently, they thought that they could rest on their oars. On the contrary, their duty is quite the opposite, the real constructive work has now to begin. Having got the chief difficulty out of the way, it was their duty to indicate to the country how they intended to come to the relief of those people. From an economic point of view, some of the people who were hard hit during the war were precisely the people whom it was necessary to put back in a good, sound, solvent condition, not merely because they bore the brunt of the struggle and were, even according to people on the opposite side of the House, in the front line trenches, but because, if that particular portion of the community is not restored to the possibility of making good, then a lot of the value of this Agreement goes. It is because we see no indication in the speech of the Minister yesterday of anything of that kind even being contemplated that we are so dissatisfied with that speech.
A new start has to be made. You must make good. You must put the people, for whose benefit, it is alleged, this Agreement was entered into, in a position to make something out of this Agreement. Can anybody contend that this Budget goes even one inch of the way in that direction? Is there a single effort to come to the relief of that portion of the community that saw its wealth dwindling before its eyes for the last six years and that is now anxious to make the very most of this Agreement? Is there any effort to suggest that the Government itself thinks it necessary to come to their relief in any way, to enable them to restock their lands, to cut down their overhead expenses, either by way of derating, by making their raw materials cheaper, or by providing them with a better breed of cattle and so on? Is there any hint of that int he Budget? In the long speech we listened to yesterday there was no indication that the Government is alive to the real necessities of the situation. It took a long time to convince them of the necessity of ending a senseless dispute by negotiations. Is it going to take as long now to get out of the belief that the farmers are in a prosperous condition, or that they are in a position to make the most of these agreements? If it takes another three or four years to convince the Government of that, what hope is there of building up this country in the way in which, I presume, the Government as well as the rest of us, would like to see it built up? Now that we have got rid of a lot of the shibboleths which did duty for public policy in the last five or six years, surely the Government ought to face up to the real tasks.
What did we listen to yesterday? All about a dispute between the Minister and a newspaper. That was a greater compliment to the newspaper than I ever saw paid in this House. I have no doubt it was deserved. But the major portion of our yearly financial pronouncement devoted to that! Anyhow, it suggests that the newspaper had go the Minister on the raw. The only practical outcome of the whole situation was this: "No cirticism of the Government; you dare not disagree with the Government." As to whether the Budget was balanced or not, a lot will depend on what is legitimate borrowing. The Minister, when dealing with the case in dispute between him and the unnamed newspaper, assumed that it is legitimate to borrow for certain things, and that he is entitled to give a trouncing to any opponent that refuses to accept the necessary premise to prove his case. That was undoubtedly the matter in dispute between himself and some of his critics—for what he could legitimately borrow. Instead of any indication or any hope being given to the country in the speech of the Minister for Finance, we had simply a monologue which dealt with the controversy between himself and the newspaper. That was the Government contribution, its message to the people, following on this "historic" Agreement that was made in London. That was the Government's chief contribution towards buoying up the hopes of the country. Remember, that not merely have material things to be built up, but the people must also be given some hope. The reception of the Agreement has been tame enough. What are people to think, on opening their newspapers this morning, and finding that this is the practical interpretation of the Agreement given by the Government? If the Government had deliberately set out to kill any optimism on the part of the people, the warning given by the Taoiseach in the seanad, and more fully driven home in practical manner by the Minister for Finance Yesterday, could not better prove that the people have nothing to hope for. If they set out to kill optimism they could not have done it any better way than by the methods pursued yesterday.
I suppose the essay to which we had the pleasure of listening on journalistic propriety was put together before the Taoiseach's statement in the Seanad. Whether the Taoiseach followed the Minister, or the Minister followed the Taoiseach, I do not know; but certainly we got the lesson that the people are not to expect too much, and that any undue optimism is to be smothered down. Certainly between them they have accomplished something in that respect. Now that the economic war is at an end, and that there is a chance of normal trading, without the interference of war conditions, surely this is the time to give the people's hopes a fillip. For some unknown reason the Government decides to take the opposite view. The position is not simply one of returning to where we were. It is not simply that there has been an interruption of some of the main channels of our trade, but that there has been a stopping as a result of national policy as interpreted by the Government. I am not going into that question now. There was not merely an interruption, but much more than an interruption, a definite shoving back. An interruption in these days of intense competition would be bad enough, for an interruption in the case of industry and commerce means serious retrogression. Other people have been able to step in and to take the place we should have had. Therefore, while a mere interruption would be serious in our position, it was much worse, because there was not merely interference or interruption, but destruction of national wealth. Now is the time to start making that good. Quite obviously the Government does not intend to do anything of the kind.
It is a great mistake to linger too long in trade matters. We can only hope that the peak of prosperity and recovery has not already passed in Europe, and that even in the principal market that we are now going freely to enter, the peak has not been reached and that we are not to be in for a period of decline there. In any case, it is obvious that we should not lose time. We have lost opportunity after opportunity for the last 16 years. Are we now going to lose another opportunity? If I am to judge by this Budget, and by the speech of the Minister for Finance, I can only say that the Government by negligence are going to lose that opportunity too. I can hardly believe that it is deliberate. The economic war is over. but the losses of the economic war and the manner in which it crippled our principal industry require to be made good. The Government found a man in a healthy condition and crippled him. They say that he is now back where he was, that the markets are open. The difference is that that man is crippled now, but the Government makes no effort to see that he is no longer lame when he fights for his place in that market. They leave him lame when re-entering that market to make the most out of it. That was the policy we had revealed yesterday.
I speak for various classes of the community that were damaged during that period, but first and foremost for everyone connected with agriculture, so far as they depended on it for their living. I do not refer to the assistance that was given to them, as it was given to many other sections by way of the dole, relief works, and so on.
I notice from this Budget speech that apparently the Government has given up any hope of ever being able to solve the unemployment question by the ordinary methods of industry. I think that, on a previous occasion, the Minister said: "The unemployed we shall have always with us." Well, the Government are taking good care that that will be so. But you have these classes that have been damaged. I have spoken if the farmers and shall return to them immediately, but I wonder whether there is anything more depressing at the present moment than to go into—I am not speaking of all—some country towns for the last three or four months and just look at the external aspect of these towns. They remind me of nothing so much as a foreign seaside resort in the out-of-season. I think there is nothing that gives me so much n idea of desolation as one of those long seaside plages or whatever they are, with every house shut up and not a soul about. That is the position of our country towns, many of them, at the present moment, as I have seen with my own eyes. They have suffered. No business is being done. That has been particularly so for the last three or four months. Everybody hoped that once the Agreement was come to there would be an immediate improvement there, that the uncertainty that prevailed during the last three or four months would be wiped away. The uncertainty continues. Shopkeepers are buying just enough to carry on from day to day; that is what they tell me and that is what the commercial travellers tell me. You could go into some country towns during the ordinary week-day and see nobody in that town from one end of the street to the other expect the inhabitants of the town—nobody from the country. These things ought to be made good and they ought to be made good quickly.
If the farming community have suffered, if some people have been practically ruined as a result of this "fight for freedom" that has been going on for the last five or six years, the victorious ending of which, we are told, we are now celebrating, it is fair, it is only justice, national justice, that these people should be put into a position to make good once more. No matter what the Government does, it will be difficult for these men. I am convinced that it will be no easy job for these people to make good, but at least every effort should be made by them, and by the Government, to see that they get the best possible chance. They certainly get no hope in that respect from the Budget speech of Yesterday. It is not merely a question of national justice to those who, in the words of the Government followers, were in the "front line of the trenches" in this "war", but it is a question of the national economy of the country as well. Unless that principal industry is put on its feet, what hope is there for the country? Very little. It will require every effort and a great deal more serious attention from the Government that the Government has given it up to the present, if these things are to be made good.
I think the Minister's Parliamentary Secretary, when he was dealing yesterday with the wretched manner of tackling the problem of unemployment on a split-week basis, said—I do not think I am misquoting him—that if the unemployment problem was to be solved so that full work per week would be provided, for instance, by the Government, in the way of relief work for all the unemployed, it would take an extra £10,000,000 a year—or it would take £10,000,000 a year—I think those were the figures given. At the rate of wages that, he pays for Government work, that throws a rather interesting light on what he thinks of the number of unemployed in this country. I think a simple mathematical calculation will show the verdict of the Parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Finance on the interpretation of the unemployment figures and on the disputes that often arose between this bench, and that bench on the fully the very considerable, the almost appalling amount of unemployment that is is this State at the present moment and how little headway the Government has made in dealing with it.
Similarly, is there anything in the speech that we listened to yesterday likely to lead us to hope for a cessation of emigration? When that was first raised in this House the Minister for Finance scoffed at the idea that there was emigration on a large scale. I wonder would he scoff at the idea to-day? Emigration is continuing; There has been no stoppage in it. That economic strain on the people, that dead weight that keeps them from lifting themselves up, that is to continue, and that is the one lesson, apart from his lecture on, as I say, journalistic ethics, that we can gather from the Minister yesterday.
There is one matter on which we have continually sought information. We have had before us various pronouncements by the Taoiseach, and yesterday we had the pronouncement of the Minister for Finance, and though a little more light has been cast on the matter of defence, nobody can say that the country knows where it is in that respect at the present moment. For some reason or other, I do not know what the reason is myself, the Government seems to have adopted the policy of giving to the people their defence policy in small doses. I am not now going into the question as to whether the country ought to bear this cost or not. The Minister for Finance made quite clear his opinion that a country if ti were free must defend its freedom. That seems to me a reasonable and defendable position for the Government to take up.
What I do not understand is why the country cannot be taken into the confidence of the Government as to what precisely that means. Week after week we get a little more information—but not full information— doled out to us as to what that means. I asked the Taoiseach himself here when we were discussing the Agreements would he mind telling the amount that defence would cost or had he any estimate of what it would cost; and though occasionally he is quite ready to intervene with head in debates, he, on this occasion, preferred to give a good imitation of the Sphinx. Then I said: "Surely you must have had some indication from the people who had charge of this defence up to the present as to what it cost them, or what it is going to cost in the future?" I got a reply that he would not make his speech, by bits, but would deal with the whole thing.
The first indication we got as to the cost of this part of defence were the amounts mentioned yesterday. The Taoiseach did not deal with that question when finishing up in the Dáil on this day fortnight. Now what is the position as regards defence? As I say, a little extra light is thrown on it by every speech made by the Taoiseach and his Ministers, but only a little extra light. The Agreement was shown immediately, but no information given on the question which interested the people. Yet we learned from the speech of the Taoiseach himself in the Seanad the day before yesterday that one of the things that perturbed him and supplied the reason for entering into negotiations was our unsatisfactory position re defence. I do not know what particular negotiations he had in mind here. The official report is not yet available, but I find from a newspaper report that he said this: "I told the Dáil these negotiations were initiated by me as a result of a despatch in which we were anxious about our whole defence position."
Anyhow, it is quite clear, though this Agreement was given to the people and though at first there was a suggestion—I do not say anything more than a suggestion—that there was little more involved than that we got the ports free of conditions. We can look after them ourselves. If we like we can let them rot, but free and unconditional we got them. But what was your policy in taking them over? That was the obvious question asked by myself and apparently from the Government point of view it was the obvious question not to answer. If you follow the debates as they go on you will find the defence question even on speeches coming from the Government side looming larger and larger. We find that the Taoiseach was gravely perturbed over the defence position in this country. We got the ports without conditions. Quite so! I am not suggesting anything to the coutrary but we are also now realising that in the defence of Great Britain, the defence of this country is a factor and we are also realising that in the defence of this country the defence of Great Britain is a factor. Listen to the Taoiseach! I am not saying that the Government can alter the geography of Europe. I know they cannot. But they speak of the sovereign people of this country. Why not take what they pretend is the sovereign people into their confidence? One of the great expressions of that sovereignty was to be the election of President. But four gentlemen met in a room and said: "We will let them do nothing of the kind"——