I can scarcely feel, from my own experience and from my own knowledge, that I could have anything in common with Deputy Meaney in offering bouquets to the Minister in regard to this question of industrial development. So far as the constituency of West Cork is concerned, I can only say that two industries there, which were very important so far as the farmers there are concerned, have almost entirely disappeared, one, due, to a great extent, I believe, to the policy, or lack of policy, of the Minister for Agriculture, but in regard to that I shall have something to say on another Estimate. At any rate, we have very little employment now in one particular industry. All I have to say is, that we have very little employment in these two industries down there. The slate quarries in West Cork have afforded very little employment for quite some time now. The Benduff quarries have turned out products that are well and favourably known not alone in this country but outside this country, and yet they have been working on a skeleton staff for quite a long time now, and I understand that, for some weeks past, they have been closed down.
I am informed that this is largely due to the preference given, either directly or indirectly, by the present Government to the tile-manufacturing industry, but I think that when the whole matter is examined, from the point of view of employment at any rate, it will be found that the amount of employment given in the tile industry, as compared with the amount of employment that would be given in the slate quarries, is comparatively small, and I think it is criminal neglect to allow these slate quarries to reach such a stage as not to be able to give any employment. I think it is criminal that, in view of the amount of employment that would be given by the working of these slate quarries, no effort should have been made by the Minister's Department to develop these quarries, and thereby give employment to a number of people who are in need of it.
There was one other industry, in an extreme portion of West Cork—or rather at the extreme end of the county—which gave a lot of employment. At one time, there were about 70 or 80 men employed there in the quarrying of granite, largely for export. Now, I am not indicting the Minister for what has happened with regard to that particular industry, which has also disappeared. I am not indicting him for the disappearance of that industry, but I am indicting him for his failure to do something towards providing employment in that district. During the last war there was a good deal of remunerative employment given in that district in the barytes industry. The barytes deposits in West Cork have been exploited, from time to time, over a number of years, and one would think that, in a situation such as we have at present, some indication of policy from the Government would be forthcoming in regard to the development of that industry, but there has been no such indication. I complain, therefore, that the two industries in that part of the country which, one might assume, could be relied upon to afford a fair measure of employment, have completely disappeared, and therefore, I suggest, that instead of being in the position of offering compliments to the Government on their success in industrial development or the success of industry under their regime, whatever industry we had, in that part of the country, at least, has completely disappeared.
That brings me to the question of the plight of the workers in this country. I wonder whether there is any realisation of the hardships that are being imposed as a result of the present situation. The hardships imposed by the present situation can hardly be exaggerated, and when one has knowledge of the large number of these cases, and the almost terrible physical efforts made by these people in order to barely exist on their present resources, one is compelled to wonder at the manner in which people seem to have become resigned, to a certain extent, to their difficulties. In that connection, I do not think it is unfair to suggest that the whole official attitude is one of indifference to the hardships of these people. There is no evidence of any policy in regard to the unemployment problem in this country or in regard to the administration of the measures designed, or alleged to be designed, for the relief of unemployment. The administration of the present Unemployment Assistance Act shows, as far as one can see, an attempt to move away from the position that was accepted when that Act was first put into force.
That Act was intended, and believed, to be a measure to provide help for people over a period of difficulty, and the expectation was that, when the unemployment position in this country would have been very substantially reduced—as seemed to be anticipated— the need for that Act would not exist any longer, or at least only to a very small extent. Now, the amounts paid in unemployment assistance, instead of being increased as a result of the increased unemployment and the present situation, are being reduced, and the whole policy of the Government seems to me to be reduced to one of paying less to the unemployed people. Now, I could not very well complain of that position if, at the same time, a corresponding effort was being made to increase employment. One would welcome anything that would tend to end the operation of the Unemployment Assistance Act, and welcome anything that would mean the provision of work for our unemployed. There is no evidence of that, however; and I complain very much, therefore, of this policy of attrition with regard to the operation of the Unemployment Assistance Act, and I think that there should be a revision of the working of that Act—particularly with regard to the complete secrecy which seems to surround the methods of dealing with people who are seeking unemployment assistance. The average unemployed person is not in a position to put up a case in the manner in which a case is prepared for a solicitor going into court. They are, to a very large extent, unaware of the rights under the Act. The only thing they know about is their need, and that is the most urgent and real thing for them at present. Without having an opportunity of uttering a word in their own defence, except in so far as they answer questions when the investigation takes place, certain means figures are arrived at in many cases, with a complete disregard or ignorance of the facts.
There was recently brought to the notice of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Department the case of a mason, aged 68 years, residing with his wife in West Cork, who received unemployment assistance occasionally, and who got certain short periods of work. The information was conveyed to the Minister's Department that since last September that man had not had one day's work. At the same time his case was examined in pursuance of this policy of reducing the amounts paid in unemployment assistance, and a means figure of 8/- per week was assessed, thus depriving him of unemployment assistance. His case came before the West Cork Board of Assistance recently, and he was granted home assistance. The official reply in that case was that a certain figure was arrived at and confirmed, and that the man had no further right of appeal. Is there no hope for people in cases of that kind? I should not wonder at the attitude of people who are the victims of that system if there is not some change of heart in the administration of the Act.
I suggest to the Minister that there is as good a case for the right of personal representation in connection with the assessment of means in respect of unemployment assistance as there is in the case of widows' pensions or old age pensions. I ask the Minister to consider giving unemployed people an opportunity of being represented or being present when their cases are under investigation, and of offering rebutting evidence to the official case that is made in matters of this kind. The Minister for Local Government conceded that right to widows under the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Act some time ago, and it is a recognised right in connection with old age pensions. I know of no reason why it should not be complied with in the administration of the Unemployment Assistance Act by giving to certain officials of the Minister's Department the function of referees for dealing with appeals of this kind and enabling the whole case to be examined in that way.
I ask for some more elaborate statements than we have had already from the Minister with regard to the unemployment problem, which constitutes a terrible menace at the present time. If the Minister consults any of the Church authorities or the social workers or the officials of local authorities, I think he will find a feeling growing up amongst such people who are constantly in touch with the poor people in this country that the position is getting extremely serious. One does not want to exaggerate the position here, but there is certainly a very serious situation developing when the average person, who is idle through no fault of his own, begins completely to despair of anything being done for him. It is a situation of that kind in other countries which is largely responsible for the world being in the condition in which it is to-day. It seems to me that the Minister and the officials of his Department would want to look very seriously at this whole question. If they have failed to provide any policy for substantially reducing employment, at least they ought to see that what is provided by the State for the unemployed is given to them without the official obstacles and impediments that seem to increase as time goes on in regard to unemployment assistance.
I should like to ask the Minister whether the intention is to scrap this Act, not publicly, but by a reduction of the amount paid under it, by reductions arising out of increases in the amounts assessed for means, by increases in the length of the Period Orders, and by this new system of forced labour which has developed recently whereby people are deprived of unemployment assistance if they refuse to go to work in a bog and receive at the end of a week's work the sum of 4/-. If that is the kind of turf development we may expect in the next 12 months, then I am afraid it is going to make the position worse instead of better. In that situation we had the funds provided for relieving and reducing unemployment raided and reduced in order to balance the Budget. That Budget is the most dismal reminder that we could have of how hopeless the position is with regard to unemployment assistance. At a time when the great armies of the world are being shattered to pieces, we make ourselves utterly ridiculous by the provision of large sums of money for an Army that, in the present circumstances, one could not see standing up to the difficulties of the situation even for one day. Money is being spent for that purpose while the people who are unemployed are being reduced to beggary and starvation.
I suggest to the Minister that we have reached a point in this country when the whole matter is becoming extremely grave and that discontent, restlessness, and the other things that ensue from that feeling may be expected if there is not some change in this whole position. One does not want to exaggerate the position, but contact with those who have responsibility, not only for the general wellbeing of the citizens in the physical sense, but also in the spiritual sense, makes one realise how seriously people in that position have come to regard the present degree of poverty and unemployment that prevails. I am afraid there is very little knowledge of that position officially. In this city and in its surroundings there are evidences of wealth and luxury that, to a great extent, cloud the real position, but there is no mistaking the situation in the heart of the country, and I hope that the Government and the House will be able to make some contribution before it becomes dangerous.