Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 6 Nov 1940

Vol. 81 No. 3

Private Deputies' Business. - Migration from the Land—Motion (resumed).

That the Dáil deplores the migration of the people from the land, and, being of opinion that one of the causes of this migration is the policy in operation over a number of years which finds expression in various statutes providing for differentiation in the treatment of similar classes of the population according as to whether they are resident in rural or non-rural areas, it hereby records its conviction that it is necessary, if the exodus from the land is to be slowed down, that every such statute, that so differentiates either directly or indirectly against the rural population, be amended at once.—(Deputies McGovern and Nally.)

In connection with this matter, the Chair would like to point out that agreement has been arrived at to conclude this motion to-night. Therefore, I will call on Deputy McGovern, as the mover of the motion, to wind up the debate at 10.10 p.m.

Mr. Gogan

As I was saying when this matter was last under discussion, the legislation passed through this House since the inception of this State has been mainly directed towards improving the standard of living in the towns and cities to the detriment of the standard of living and the general remuneration of producers engaged in rural Ireland. I was pointing put that, in connection with local taxation, for example, the effect of legislation in this House has been to compel the rural population to bear an excessive proportion of the cost of local government. Various Bills have been passed for the alleged purpose of relieving destitution, relieving unemployment, improving housing, improving sewerage, and so on, and under all those Bills an inequitable portion of the cost has had to be borne by the agricultural section of the community. We have had an example of this legislation even as late as to-day, where the cost of relieving unemployment has been transferred to a very large extent to the people engaged In the agricultural industry.

That is the type of legislation which has been going through this House for the past 18 years. It is legislation designed to continue the abnormal situation, which existed when this State was established. We know that at the time when this State was established the economic condition of the country was abnormal. During the years of the last great war the prices of agricultural produce were increased threefold. As a result of that increase in agricultural prices, all costs—including the cost of Government, the cost of transport, wages in most industries, and salaries of State officials—were increased threefold, in the same proportion as agricultural prices were increased. But in 1921 agricultural prices came down to what they were before the last great war, while the costs were not brought down. The cost, of Government and the cost of public services, national and local, were at a figure which was three times the pre-war figure. Since 1922 we have been passing legislation which has had the effect, of stabilising that very unsatisfactory condition of affairs. Every Bill which has been brought to this House, whether it was for the purpose of fixing salaries or fixing costs of any kind, has been on the basis that it is just and equitable that the disparity which existed in 1922 between the price of agricultural produce and the cost of Government should continue.

That is a state of affairs which must be brought to an end by legislation. We must seek by legislation either to raise the standard of living in rural Ireland by raising the remuneration and the profits of those engaged in rural occupations, or alternatively we must force the cost of Government, the cost of transport and the cost of all public services down to the low level of agricultural profits. That is the purpose, I think, of this motion, to point out that our legislation has been altogether on an unsound and uneconomic basis. We hear various explanations given for the migration of our rural population to the cities and towns. We are told by learned people that, if the farmers were left alone, if there-were no agitators—whatever kind of people they are—to tell the farmers that they are not well off, the farmers would believe that they are well off. Now, it is hard to believe that any gentleman who is supposed to regard himself as serious can make such a statement as that when we realise the uneconomic conditions under which the agricultural industry is being run at the present time; when we realise that emergency legislation was passed through this House last year to compel the farmers to engage in increased tillage; to compel them to engage in that increased tillage under very drastic penalties should they fail to do so, and that, after the farmers had engaged in that increased tillage and had increased their production, they found at the end of the year, after enormous expenses, that their produce was unsaleable, and is unsaleable still.

Surely it is our duty as a Legislative Assembly to set about remedying that state of affairs. If we pass legislation in this House compelling the farmer to increase production, to increase the acreage of land under tillage, we must at least take the very elementary step of ensuring that the farmer will get a decent wage for his work. That is not too much to demand. As our time is limited, I will not go over the various ways in which this House has failed to legislate equitably for the rural population, but I think the few instances which I have given will be sufficient to show that the position is not normal.

I intervene merely to refer to another aspect that might be dealt with on this motion. The motion is dealing with the exodus from the land and suggests that it might be dealt with by amending legislation. I think in the opinion of most people the exodus from the land is a social problem as well as an economic one, and I want to refer to one particular social aspect of it. This House, in its wisdom, in 1935 passed an Act to regulate entertainment in the country, that is, ths Public Dance Halls Act, 1935, which set out under what conditions both in the cities and in rural Ireland public dance halls were to be licensed.

The main heads of these conditional were that the character of the applicant should be proper, that the hall should be suitable, that the Guards would be notified, that the public health authorities would be notified and, if they were satisfied with the fitness of the applicant and the suitability of his premises, he would then receive a licence subject to certain conditions which the district justice might impose. Certain district justices in this country, acting on legislation passed by this House, have taken it upon themselves to act as moral censors of the people of this country and to differentiate very stronaly between the morals of the people of the city and the morals of the people of the country. That is the reason I make this point on this motion, because it deals with legislation of this sort.

Every Deputy in tills House is aware that in the cities of Dublin and Cork, and in any town of any substantial size in this country, public dance halls will be licensed for all night dancing and are sometimes granted an occasional licence with a bar attached, but apparently there are people who, by their privileged position as justices in this State, can talk about individuals in country areas and decide for themselves that the country people are not fit to get the concessions that the city people get. There are justices in this country who, quite recently, have taken it upon themselves to tell applicants in the District Court, when neither the Guards nor the State solicitor had any objection to their applications, that they could not dance certain hours, that they could not dance certain types of dances, that they could not have a bar or anything like that. I would suggest to the Minister, who is present in the House, that if this House passes an Act of Parliament which sets down certain defined regulations for the issuing of licences for any type of premises, amusements or anything else, people should not be allowed to use a privileged position to comment upon the character of the people in the district.

I think the Deputies from my constituency will agree with me that we are very fortunate in our area in that respect, that We could not say one word against the attitude of any justice in our area, but it is perfectly plain that in other areas in this country justices take upon themselves to pontificate about what the young people of the country may do and what the young people of the country may not do. I suggest to ths Minister who is dealing with this that the question should be looked into. Is any justice, simply because he is in a privileged position, entitled to get up and say in public court that the young people of any area in tins country, whether town or city, are not fit to dance after a certain hour, are not fit to be considered proper people because they want to dance a certain type of dance? When people do that sort of thing, they are using legislation to shove their private opinions down other people's throats. The only result of their attitude is that the unfortunate applicant who goes before that district justice and has his licence refused is compelled to appeal to the circuit judge for his licence to get the restrictions removed, which the circuit court judge, strangely enough, in that particular case, always does, at a cost—Deputy Corry will be sorry to hear—of ten guineas to the applicant. I am sure Deputy Corry will agree with me that it is very wrong for any district justice to put any applicant for a licence in the position of having to pay ten guineas to a solicitor.

Is that why the people are flying from the land?

I do not know what powers the Minister has for dealing with people of that sort, but I suggest that it is very bad. It creates a very bad impression on the average person in this country. Are district justices going to be allowed to air their private views upon every subject that comes up before them? They are there to do, one job only—to carry out the law and administer the law as passed by this House and, simply because they have a bee in their bonnet about one particular subject, the type of dances or, hours of dancing, they should not be allowed to get up in the District Court and use that as a platform for airing their own pet grievances about any particular subject.

There is nothing about dancing in the motion.

I think Deputy Kelly, if he reads the motion, will find that legislation in this country is being accused in this motion of affecting the flight from the land. I am suggesting that legislation that was passed by this House, when Deputy Kelly was a member of it, is being used in such a way as to suggest that the people in the country are not as good or as moral as the citizens of Dublin.

Mr. Kelly

I do not think so.

I say there are district justices in the country who are doing that. Deputy Kelly may not agree with that view. I would be sorry to hear it suggested that the people in the country were only as good or as moral as the citizens of Dublin. I suggest that, if it is possible, the Minister present should intimate to the Minister for Justice that in the interests of the law in this country, in the interests of carrying out the legislation it is supposed to carry out, it would be at least hinted to these gentlemen that they were appointed to deal with the applications before them according to the law they had to administer, according to the merits of the application and that in those particular cases the local Gárda superintendent and the local State solicitor are perfectly good judges of the character of the applicant and the applicant's premises. These justices ought not to be allowed, merely because they have a bee in their bonnet; to put people to the expense of an appeal and to utilise the law in a way it was never intended to be used. It is wrong, it is disgraceful that a district justice, just because he does not like to give them the licence, puts unfortunate individuals who appear before him to the trouble and expense of appealing to the Circuit Court.

There is just one other subject I would like to refer to on this motion. I think it is quite possible, as far as housing is concerned in this country and as far as money is being expended under legislation by this House, that very soon the Government will seriously have to take stock of the position of housing. There is no question or doubt—and I think most country Deputies will agree with me—that if houses are to be built for people who are classified as labourers in the country those houses should be spread out over the countryside and not attached to towns. There is certainly a differentiation between the towns and the rural areas in that respect.

Urban building in certain towns in this country has been carried to extremes. It has been carried to extremes for this reason, that the cost of the buildings that are put up is so high that very often the rents are so excessive that they are useless to the type of people who want them or else entirely uneconomic for the local authority. A system has developed in this country, even as regards the ordinary labourers' cottages, to build ten or 12 together right up to the very edge of the town, instead of having those eight or ten labourers' cottages spread all over the rural area. I believe that if houses are available near a town at the rent of labourers' cottages, it is a definite attraction to people to come and occupy those houses and to try to get employment in the town rather than stay in the country and work as they would normally for farmers or anybody else there.

There is no question that if 12 houses are built near any town or village and offered by the board of health for tenancy, the people who will go into them will be agricultural labourers; but, once they go into the houses, if it is at all possible they will cease to be agricultural labourers because they will attempt to get employment with a building contractor or they will obtain casual employment on the roads or in the adjacent town.

While we have been doing a lot in the way of urban building, rural building has been more or less neglected. In almost every area there has been some progress in the erection of labourers' cottages, but it is more or less the practice that if they build five cottages in a rural area, they build ten or 12 right outside a town or village. In most cases where people go into these cottagas they no longer remain agricultural labourers, in the sense that they are working on farms. No doubt at the time they take over the cottages they are agricultural labourers within the meaning of the Act.

When we are dealing with legislation such as would apply to people in the rural areas as compared with the urban areas, I suggest that something should be done in the way of a definition of an agricultural labourer. At present almost anybody in a rural area comes within the definition of an agricultural labourer. On one famous occasion I was informed that an agricultural labourer was a person who did work for farmers. I suggest that there are certain Deputies who might qualify for the occupancy of a labourer's cottage under the existing definition. It might also be suggested that a solicitor living in a country town could, under the present definition, become the tenant of a cottage, because undoubtedly he is a person who does work for farmers. Of course, Deputy Corry may not agree with that. The only difference is that when a solicitor does work for a farmer, and from that point of view qualifies himself as an agricultural labourer, he would probably be better paid by a man like Deputy Corry, for instance, than a genuine agricultural labourer, and perhaps he would be more sure of his money.

I suggest that the existing definition of an agricultural labourer is extraordinarily vague. Apparently, anybody who can show the local authority that he is living within a certain income is entitled to become the tenant of a cottage, very often to the exclusion of a bona fide agricultural labourer. I think Deputies from my area will agree that, if 500 cottages were built there, it would be more satisfactory to see those cottages spread out more instead of being built in a row; it is much more desirable to have them dotted around the countryside. I do not know how Deputy Corry regards the definition of an agricultural labourer.

Perhaps the Deputy will tell us what law has to be amended in order to do what he suggests?

The Labourers Acts ought to be amended, particularly in regard to the definition of an agricultural labourer.

What the Deputy has been referring to is the building of houses near villages and towns. I suggest that Deputy Linehan, having a nine-tenths majority on the board of health, ought to be able, through his organisation, to control them and he ought not to be bringing it up here.

The main difference between Deputy Corry and myself is that, even though I may have a nine-tenths majority on the board of health, and can make the board do certain things, I am not afraid of criticising that board of health. I will criticise the North Cork Board of Health, no matter who has the majority on it, if it does not do the things it ought to do. I will criticise the members of that board and every other board of health in Eire if I think they are giving cottages to people who are not bona fide agricultural labourers, over the heads of those who are.

It is grossly unfair for Deputy Linehan to be attacking his absent colleagues.

There is one thing I will not do, and that is, whomever I do attack in his absence, it will not be Deputy Corry. If Deputy Corry was with the majority on the South Cork Board of Health, if there was a Fiahna Fáil majority there and they decided to evict every agricultural labourer in South Cork, I do not believe the Deputy would object to it, he would be so tied up with his majority. To give the people of North Cork their due——

What about the motion?

This motion stands in the names of Deputy McGovern and myself:—

"That the Dáil deplores the migration of the people from the land, and, being of opinion that one of the causes of this migration is the policy in operation over a number of years which finds expression in various statutes providing for differentiation in the treatment of similar classes of the population according as to whether they are resident in rural or non-rural areas, it hereby records its conviction that it is necessary, if the exodus from the land is to be slowed down, that every such statute, that so differentiates either directly or indirectly against the rural population, be amended at once."

I want to make suggestions which, if put into operation, might bring about some measure of relief. First of all, we have the Department of Agriculture. I think that Department should make some arrangement to give loans to farmers for the purchase of artificial manure, live stock and farm implements at a low rate of interest. With the co-operation of the Department of Local Government, immediate steps should be taken to derate all agricultural land. I believe that if these suggestions were given effect to, it would help considerably towards keeping the people on the land.

Another important Government, institution is the Department of Lands. They should immediately proceed to divide all the lands now held by the Land Commission and they should acquire all the large grazing ranches. They should also migrate the holders of uneconomic holdings from the congested districts, especially those who have families. Many Deputies are aware of the amount of land available in Meath, Westmeath and the Midlands. There is no reason why the poor unfortunate congests from the West should not get some opportunity of being transferred there. They were promised a scheme of migration long ago, and if that scheme were carried out it would help to remedy the flight of the young people from the land.

The Public Works Department should be asked to carry out certain drainage works. So far as the County Mayo is concerned, they should deal with the drainage of the Moy and its tributaries, the Gweston, Pollock and Yellow rivers, partly in North Mayo and partly in South Mayo; and they should also deal with the Clare-Dalgan river in South Mayo. That would provide remunerative employment for 1,500 men for at least three years. These are some of the remedies I suggest and I do not believe they would cost the Government very much. They would be productive works and they would help to relieve some of the existing unemployment.

The cost of living in this country has gone up since Fianna Fáil got into power. The price of flour has been practically doubled. We have to pay 23/6 a cwt. for flour, whereas a sack of flour in Liverpool is selling for 25/- That is double the price—we have to pay double what they are paying in England although England is supposed to be one of the richest countries in the world. Everybody knows how rates have risen in the country in the last few years, especially since Fianna Fáil got into power. We have seen industries that were once flourishing and able to pay dividends, driven into such a state that they are no longer able to pay such dividends. Take the railways, for instance. Up to 1932 they were paying dividends on certain classes of their stock. Since then, they have been unable to pay dividends either on their preference or ordinary stocks. I suppose they must be on the verge of bankruptcy. I only mention that as one instance of the decay of former prosperous concerns for which Fianna Fáil policy was responsible. I do not wish to labour the point at this stage as I understand that the arrangement was that the debate should conclude at 10.10 p.m. and it is just that time now.

Will the Deputy suggest that the Cork people can dance as much as they like?

I am, in thorough sympathy with what Deputy Linehan said on that matter.

I should like to say that I do not agree with Deputy Linehan that the discontent of the agricultural community is altogether due to the absence of facilities for indulging in certain pastimes. The exodus from the land is a purely economic problem. There is no doubt that there is a social aspect connected with it, too, because quite recently I travelled to West Cork and I saw about 250 persons on the side of the road dancing there. It happened to be a fine evening, but I can well picture the plight of these boys and girls if the evening were wet. Where would these boys and girls meet to pass their leisure hours? There should be some kind of a parochial hall where social contact would be provided. I do not think, however, that difficulties of that kind trouble the people very much. The whole question, as I understand it, is a purely economic one. If the farming community were able to make ends meet and enjoy a decent standard of comfort, we would not have so many people leaving the land. A few weeks ago I heard An Taoisrach stating that if we were to build up an economy on the land in this country, we must base it on frugal comfort. I think I can claim to have a good knowledge of the kind of life led by farmers and agricultural labourers, and I think it is entirely below a decent standard of living. A boy or girl, the son or daughter of a farmer or an agricultural labourer, will not continue to live in rural districts on ths poor standard of wages at present afforded when he or she can get better wages in more congenial surroundings, and I do not think that anybody can criticise such boys or girls for leaving the country under present conditions.

A professor recently told us that it was not a question of money, that if the farmers had more money there would be more dance halls and a lot more dogs. I think a statement of that kind is an insult to the intelligence of the farming community. Somebody else stated that farmers' wives should learn how to work as farmers' wives. That is another insult to the farming community. The Taoiscach mentioned here recently that if we are going to have an economy based on frugal comfort many of our people will have to shed some of their present sense of values in life. I am entirely in agreement with him, but I am wondering why he does not do something to bring these things about instead of talking about them.

Who will deny that the standard of life among the farming community, and indeed amongst the poor people as a whole, is anything but an enviable one? Notwithstandins all the complaints about the conditions of these people, we have still 2,500 persons who have an annual income, after paying income-tax and surtax, of over £8,500,000 between them. There could be a good deal of frugal comfort provided for people in rural districts if some of that excessive wealth of the leisured classes were taken from these people, and I would suggest to the Taoiscach when he talks about frugal comfort, the sooner he takes some action of that kind, the better for the country.

Deputy McGovern to conclude.

I should like first to hear what the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Local Government has to say. I have nothing to reply to.

The time is too short.

Mr. Brennan

Let us hear you for a few moments.

I should not like to cramp Deputy McGovern's style. He has only a quarter of an hour. It is delightful to listen to him.

I suppose you are accepting the motion?

Go ahead.

I do not know whether I am to regard the silence of the Parliamentary Secretary as indicating that he is prepared to accept the motion on behalf of the Government, but I cannot take any other meaning out of his silence. I have not heard a single word from the opposite benches; probably they agree with the motion. I challenge them if they do not agree with it to get up and explain why. I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary represents a rural constituency which is similar in many respects to my own. I do not think there is any part of it which could not be described as a rural constituency. I take his silence to-night as an indication of sympathy with the motion and as an implied promise that something is going to be done to bring about more equitable relations between the different sections of our people. Sooner or later that must be done.

The day is coming when the people in the rural districts, who number three-fourths of our total population, who are not any more lacking in intelligence than the people of our cities and towns, will wake up. They in turn will wake up the powers that be and will see that justice is done to them. That day would have come long ago were it not that they were kept divided over other little matters which distracted their attention from the real problem and the system by which they have been treated as slaves. For my own part I would much prefer to see the Government, with the co-operation of all Parties in this House, dealing with this problem before the day comes when the country will compel them to do so.

It is not merely in the interests of equity, although that is a very important aspect, but in the interests of the nation as a whole, that some attempt should be made to solve this problem, because it will be impossible to keep our people from leaving the land and going into the cities if the standard of living for every particular class is three times as high in the cities as it is in the country. It is only humbug, and everybody knows it is humbug, for educated people to try to explain the flight from the land by saying that it is due to lack of facilities for enjoyment in the country. The people in the country can enjoy themselves as far as they want to. They are not in the least handicapped in that respect. Their discontent arises from the economic position. The people in the country are no fools, and the Parliamentary Secretary knows that perfectly well. He knows what the income of the agricultural labourer and the people in the small towns in County Monaghan is. The trouble is that the members of the agricultural community are scattered far and wide over plain and mountain. A well-organised Party, which has other interests, finds no trouble at all in keeping these people at one another's throats, keeping them divided over petty things and drawing them away from their own best interests.

I hope the Parliamentary Secretary and Deputies on all sides realise that the day is coming when the people in the rural districts will come together, and the sooner they come together the better. I hope when they do come together they will not waste their time talking about nonsensical things which do not affect them. I hope that they will come down to the root of the problem and that they will deal with the disease itself rather than with the symptoms. I hope that they will not confine themselves to petty points, such as quotas and things like that, but deal with the real policy that has been in operation, which is to protect one section of the people and keep them in a superior position and to use the other section, comprising three-fourths of the people, as slaves to produce and sell their produce at less than the cost of production.

In an English newspaper to-day I saw that the English Government are going to take more bacon from Ireland because the Irish people are selling it cheaper than it can be produced on the other side. Is not that a lesson for the Parliamentary Secretary and for every one of us? What does it mean? It means that we are selling pigs at less than the cost of production. We have not only to produce these pigs but we have to pay the freight upon them to England and the high insurance in wartime and still undersell the producers on the other side. They would be losing money even though they would not have to pay the freight, insurance and the middleman's profit; they could not produce them at the price.

Let us turn to the other side of the picture. There is another section of producers in this country who are not satisfied to produce at world prices plus the freight charges which their competitors would have to pay. Even with the advantage of from 40 per cent. to 75 per cent. added, they must still be protected more and more by quotas, and all this at the expense of the unfortunate people who are producing at so much below the world price. I should like to hear what the Parliamentary Secretary has to tell us about the principal industry in his county. He was very wise not to speak to-night and I congratulate him on his wisdom. He knows that the principal industry and the most thriving industry in County Monaghan, and I challenge him to deny it, is smuggling eggs across the Border, where they are 9d. per dozen higher than in County Monaghan, where they have to pay higher for feeding stuffs than at the other side and where they have to pay 60 per rent. higher for many of the articles they have to buy. Yet these people have to sell their own produce almost 50 per cent. below the cost ot production. In order to do that, of course, they must adopt a standard of living below that of any other class. The only remedy for them is to fly from the land and take any position that is going. Anyone who is connected with a local body knows that even for the job of porter, street sweeper, or road-maker there would be as many as 150 applicants. These people would take anything at all to get off the land. Then the Parliamentary Secretary and everybody know that labour is organised against the poor people who are reared on small farms because they are competing with labour and would do the work at half the money. They are driven to such a state that they would undercut labour in order to live; but the fact is that they are hardly allowed to live at all.

The present position certainly calls for a remedy. Everybody knows perfectly well what the position is in every county, certainly in a good many of the western, north-western and southern counties. They know that the people on the land are being crushed. Instead of doing anything to assist these people the Government have applied the goad. They make an order requiring increased production. Although they are only giving about half or two-thirds of the cost of production, they make the farmers produce more and more, lose more and more money, and slave harder and harder. Even then they are leaving the produce on the farmers' hands. At the same time, these "cushy" people who have little factories are making 12½ and 15 per cent. upon the money they put into these factories, and are paying their workers at least three times the wages of agricultural labourers for much less work. As I say, the Parliamentary Secretary was wise in not replying to this debate. In my own halting way I have made a case for this motion. Indeed, I must say, that the case was worthy of a better advocate. But in my own stumbling way I have put facts before the Parliamentary Secretary to which he could not reply.

You give me no credit at all for allowing you to make two speeches.

I would rather be listening to you speaking to-night. I have not anything to add to what I have said.

It I had known you were as anxious as, that I would have made a speech in reply.

Are you accepting the motion?

No, I could not do that. I am neighbourly enough, but do not ask me to accept the motion.

I think the House will be gracious enough to allow the Parliamentary Secretary even now to give his reasons.

We will let the House decide.

When you turn to another aspect of this question you find the same thing running through and through it. When any other little industry wants money the Government throws money at it. Hundreds of thousands of pounds are being sunk every day in industries that are going down. On the other hand, the farmer has to pay 5½ and 6 per cent. and give the best security before he can get a shilling. I am glad to see that all Parties in the House agree with the motion, that there is not a single Deputy who could say a word against it. I am prepared to leave it at that. I do not want at this time to divide the House upon a rather delicate question. I know that it would not be very pleasant for any of the Parties. I prefer to leave it at that. I hope that this matter will be remedied by the goodwill and co-operation of all Parties in the House. That would be better than waiting until the pressure from the country will compel them to do it.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
The Dáil adjourned at 10.30 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Thursday, 7th November.