I have no doubt the Deputy was so acting. I have no doubt also that the views dictated to him were very excellent views. They are views that might be adopted with profit by anybody. No one need be ashamed of having expressed them. They are views that mirror completely the chaotic industrial position that exists here to-day — a shortage of raw materials in most industries, inability to procure these raw materials from any source, apparently no foresight in dealing with the problem, and no planning for easing the situation.
One has got to realise, when considering matters of this kind, the interrelationship of one industry with another, and the tied-up character of our commercial and industrial activities. We have seen recently the effects on industry, on commerce, on agriculture and on employment generally of the shortage of petrol which caused not merely an immediate loss of employment to men in garages, to men in private employment who depend for their employment on activities in connection with motor transport, but we have seen that it results in the disemployment of men engaged in a variety of, apparently, unrelated occupations in industry and commerce. Just like the stone thrown into the centre of a pool, that shortage of petrol radiated unemployment right throughout the entire State. If men are going to lose their employment through a shortage of petrol, through a shortage of raw materials which sustain our people in employment, then a very serious situation is going to arise here from an employment point of view. Men who lose their employment cannot pay their rents or instalments due on furniture. They cannot fulfil their house purchase contracts, they cannot pay for their groceries, for boots and for clothes, and, in the end, their idleness in turn leads to the disemployment of people engaged in these other activities.
A visit to the employment exchange in Gardiner Street to-day, will be sufficient to remove doubts from the minds of the most prejudiced of the serious situation which is growing up in the country, not merely because of the number of unemployed but because of the new type of unemployment which has arisen out of the emergency situation. Men who formerly were in good and regular employment and able to enter into commitments to purchase houses and furniture, men who always paid their rents regularly and suffered no economic distress which necessitated the postponement of that obligation, are now thrown on the employment exchange, and the State, which ought to be concerned, having regard to its constitutional obligations, about safeguarding people in that position, is doing absolutely nothing. Those men are being compelled to allow their insurance policies to lapse, they are unable to pay the instalments due on their furniture, they are unable to pay their rents. Because they have fallen into arrear with their rents they are being evicted and driven down to a condition of depression never experienced by them heretofore.
The dislocation which has arisen has been due in great measure to the absence of an adequate mercantile marine such as might have served the nation efficiently and effectively in the present situation. Much of the dislocation could have been avoided if, in 1939, we had the foresight to purchase ships from the large number of neutral countries which then had ships and were ready and willing to sell them. It was not until towards the end of 1940, when the area of belligerency had been extended, and when there was practically no country which had any portion of its mercantile marine for sale, that we awoke to the necessity of having a shipping service of our own, and appeared to appreciate its indispensability in carrying to this country the goods and raw materials, needed to sustain life as well as our industrial and agricultural activity. Now, there is some concern about that. It is a belated kind of concern. One does not know even now whether, in fact, there is a genuine desire on the part of the Government in regard to it. We had a most amazing declaration made in this House recently by the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defensive Measures to the effect that, if all the ships in the world were at the bottom of the sea and if we used our brains, we could still have a good standard of life here. Surely, nobody believes that that is a sane policy for any Government to postulate for this country. Every country in the world regards shipping as indispensable and yet in this country with its negligible mercantile marine, we have a responsible Minister saying that it does not matter if all the ships in the world were at the bottom of the sea: that all we have got to do is to use our brains and that then everything will be all right.
Notwithstanding the fact that all the ships are reposing on the bed of the ocean, this Minister still thinks everything will be all right. We then had a statement from the Minister for Supplies which gives cause for doubt as to whether he, in fact, believes that the augmentation of our shipping fleet is desirable. His statement was to the effect that the purchase of ships and the utilisation of Irish ships might possibly have consequences for us which might impair our neutrality. Is that Government policy in respect to a mercantile marine? We ought to be told definitely where we stand in this matter. Do we believe, as the Minister for the Co-Ordination of Defensive Measures said, that if all shipping was at the bottom of the sea, everything would be all right, or are ships regarded as a danger to our neutrality as indicated by the Minister for Supplies in his speech? Are ships things of which we should rid ourselves in this emergency because one or two or 12 might be lost as a result of belligerent action elsewhere? Which of these viewpoints represents Government policy on this question of a mercantile marine? It seems to me that both are economically crazy, having regard to our circumstances. Consequently, we ought to have from the Government an authoritative statement on its policy in regard to the acquisition of ships and the augmenting of our present negligible mercantile marine. One does not know whether, in fact, the Government are serious in endeavouring to purchase ships. They were told in 1939 that they ought to purchase ships and at that time ships could have been bought. The Government knew that, but nothing apparently was done. Now, a half-hearted effort is being made to acquire ships. But everybody knows that the only ships that we can get to-day are unseaworthy junks and luggers which are situate at the far ends of the earth where we cannot even inspect them.
I want to say that I charge the Government with sheer inertia in failing in 1939 to survey the requirements of this country, and to examine its potentialities in the matter of supplying its own requirements. We were told at that time that a Department of Supplies had been established. We were told that the new Department was making efforts to obtain certain materials. We were told that it was to be the eyes and the ears and the brains of our economic and agricultural workshop. But we see now, in the early days of 1941, and we have seen it for many months past, that such activity as was undertaken by the Department of Supplies was of a very limited and puny character. A very short time after the war became intensified we are faced with difficulties which that Department and the Government generally had ample time to deal with if they were only serious in approaching the problem. We are short of materials now. We have been short of them for a long time, but everybody knows that for all of 1939 and for the first six months of 1940 we could have bought supplies in a large number of places without any difficulty whatever because then there was no great drain on the resources of other countries. Ships of many countries were plying the seas. Ships of many countries were available for hire, for sale, for lease, but during that period we appear to have rested on our oars, being treated to an occasional speech to the effect that things were all right. Our sense of security was rudely disturbed, however, by the declarations made in December last regarding a shortage of petrol followed by the declaration that tea was scarce and again by an intimation that we could not get coal, and that if we could get coal it was only the rubbishy quality that is coming in to-day.
If we had not sterling assets during that period, or if we could not get dollars, one might understand the difficulties that confronted us later on, but we had dollars then or could get them, or were entitled at all events to get dollars in exchange for our sterling assets, but we did not exploit that situation as we ought to have done, and did not, apparently, recognise the difficulties which were then naked before our eyes. We could then have utilised the assets which are now frozen in London for the purpose of importing a good deal of the commodities which we cannot get from any source now. Our position in respect of manufactured goods and raw materials so far as Britain is concerned is that we cannot get the materials we need and we cannot, of course, in those circumstances repatriate our foreign assets. Now, we have neither our money nor the materials to feed and clothe our people or to sustain our industries and agriculture. We could then have bought and stored, if we had only the foresight to do so, the materials that would be needed to tide us over the war period, but because we neglected that opportunity we are now paying the price in an increasing number of unemployed, in a substantially increased cost of living, and in a creeping despair and bleakness in the homes of tens of thousands of our people in this country to-day.
There is probably no better illustration of the complete absence of planning than is revealed by an examination of the food situation. It must have been obvious to the Government last harvest that there would be a shortage of wheat in this country this year. It must have been obvious, with only 300,000 acres under wheat, giving us approximately 300,000 tons of wheat while we needed approximately 650,000 tons, that we were bound to be in a serious position in respect of wheat production this year. Nothing was done in October; nothing was done in November; nothing was done in December. But, in January, the Government woke up to discover that we were not going to get any more foreign wheat, that we could not get ships to transport the wheat if we got it, that we could not get any re-exported from Britain, and that, consequently, we must rely entirely on our own resources in respect of wheat production.
Four very valuable months were allowed to pass before anything was done, and then we had panicky declarations in January and February on the necessity for growing wheat and other cereals, when with any foresight we might, towards the end of last year, have seen clearly that our wheat acreage was insufficient, and that there was necessity for a considerable increase in the acreage under wheat and other cereals if we were to feed ourselves independently of outside supplies. The campaign to grow more wheat should have been launched at the very latest in October, 1940, and even that might well be said to have been too late to put a comprehensive plan into operation, but instead of moving even in October nothing was done until January. Then there were panicky advertisements, panicky speeches, Ministers let loose all over the country, and other officials let loose to try to get county committees of agriculture to encourage local people to grow all the wheat and other cereals that it was possible for them to grow. That kind of panicky appeal never yields satisfactory results. Certainly, from the point of view of results, it is much to be deplored, when we could have put into operation a planned and systematic campaign such as is always calculated to yield satisfactory results.
Another example of the shortsightedness of the Government in respect of food supplies was revealed by the butter position. Last year, we exported tens of thousands of cwts of butter to Britain at a very low price, at a subsidised price. We had to pay a subsidy on those exports of butter to the British market. With the most unhurried leisure we proceeded to feed that butter out to another country; we are now paying, and have been paying for the past two months, and probably will be paying for another month or six weeks, for the folly of exporting butter which we urgently need for our own people. We have another example of it now in respect of potatoes. The Minister for Industry and Commerce would not disclose the figures this evening. Everybody knows perfectly well that there are substantial exports of potatoes from this country to-day. Somebody may try to defend that on the ground that they are seed potatoes. If those seed potatoes were in the country our own people would not be paying the fancy prices they are paying for potatoes to-day, and we have no indication whatever that even the supplies of seed potatoes in the country are sufficient to meet our requirements this year.
If we have seed potatoes available we ought to be putting them in Irish earth, instead of exporting them to other people while there is any possibility of utilising them for our own benefit. It will not surprise me to discover later in the year that there is a certain shortage of seed potatoes, which will show itself in difficulty in procuring them or substantially higher prices for those who require them. I think the Government has good grounds to feel concerned with the present food supply position.
Last minute and panicky efforts to augment the acreage under wheat and other cereals are not, I fear, going to give us all that we require in order to sustain our human and live stock population. Even if, by some adventitious circumstances, that does result, the Government appear to be planning from week to week and month to month; they do not appear to have any coordinated plan and apparently they do not intend to plan any distance ahead. Other countries in Europe are to-day planning for the years 1942 and 1943, and they are endeavouring to work to a programme which will ensure supplies of foodstuffs for a few years ahead. In this country, in contradistinction to that wisdom, we wake up in the month of January to an appeal to our people, notwithstanding our climatic conditions, to grow more wheat and other cereals, and there is no authoritative statement from the Government with regard to their agricultural plan.
The reply of the Minister for Supplies to-day with respect to the difficulty of obtaining ships indicates that we may have to depend entirely on our own production of food for our people. In circumstances of that kind it is surely good business to conserve for our people all the foodstuffs which they may need. We certainly ought not to have a repetition of the folly of last year when we exported butter at a time when our own people could not get butter, and we should not be exporting potatoes when there is a possibility that there will be a shortage of potatoes later in the year. The circumstances to-day are probably dissimilar in many respects to the circumstances that produced the famine of 1846 and 1847. It is true there was a potato crop failure in both of those years, but it is true also, as John Mitchel said, and as was proved by statistics, that, at the time we lost 2,000,000 of our population of 8,000,000 through starvation, we were producing sufficient food to feed a population of 18,000,000. We may well, by a shortsighted policy with regard to the conservation of food, produce a position in which, while we may grow more and harvest sufficient, our own people may not be able to get adequate supplies for which they now must rely on their own country because it is not safe to expect imports.
My main difficulty is to ascertain what is the precise policy of the Government. A short time ago the Minister for Agriculture, in Cork, said he did not know what to do with our agricultural produce if the British did not buy it. In every other country Governments are anxious to garner all the agricultural produce possible for the use and benefit of the people, but here we have the Minister for Agriculture saying that he does not know what to do with our agricultural produce if the British do not buy it. There are 300,000 Irish citizens who do not get a fraction of the Irish produce that good health and decent sustenance demand, and in those circumstances our Government might be well advised if they utilised our agricultural produce for the purpose of sustaining, in healthy life, our own population, rather than worry about exporting any of that agricultural produce to another country. It is that type of mentality, postulated in the speech of the Minister for Agriculture, that is going to commit us to a policy of sighing after a market to which to export goods that we may yet require for our own people.
Of course, everybody will understand that in our circumstances, due to our size, our geographical situation, and the fact that we are ill-equipped with regard to shipping, we may have to put up with a shortage of tea, a shortage of cocoa and coffee, and that we may not be able to get bananas and cocoanuts. These are not serious economic problems, if we have only the courage and vision to produce here the other commodities which we require for our people. We have a soil which enables us to produce fresh meat, vegetables, potatoes, pork, bacon, butter, milk, cream, jams, bread, cheese, eggs, lard and honey. If we can produce these commodities in quantities sufficient to enable our people to live, then we need not worry about the absence of such things as coffee and cocoa, and we can look with the completest indifference on a shortage of silk stockings, fur coats and tall hats. But we are not doing what we ought to be doing in the matter of utilising the fertility of our soil for the production of these commodities. Their production in abundance will mean a decent standard of life and a healthy existence for our people.
I have already indicated that this motion is directed to three problems. It deals, first of all, with the dislocation of industry and I think the quotations which I have given indicate that there is a very serious position developing in that respect. The motion is also aimed at focussing attention on the problem of unemployment. There is no Minister, no responsible Deputy and no responsible citizen who cannot but be gravely concerned with the unemployment position that faces us. The chairman of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce has indicated that, because of the shortage of raw materials, he could conceive a situation in which one-third of our population would be unemployed in eight months' time. Unfortunately, the fears which he expressed are already being borne out by the disemployment of substantial numbers of workers in various industries in Eire. The number of unemployed who registered at our employment exchanges last December is given as 96,000. That figure has since risen to over 100,000. Of course, figures taken at that time of the year are not necessarily an accurate guide to the number of persons really unemployed, because during that period the Board of Works inaugurates its rotational schemes which result in two sets of men being employed to do a job that would normally require one set in a particular week. You, therefore, get substantially reduced unemployment figures by reference to the December statistics.
The figures since December have risen rapidly and they would rise still more were it not for the order recently made by the Government cutting off tens of thousands of unemployed workers from assistance for the next six months. Let us examine the last figure relating to the unemployed— 105,000—and at the same time it would be well to remember that there has been a substantial exodus of our people to Belfast and Britain, that we have almost doubled the strength of our Army, and that the doubling of the Army has, in turn, caused a considerable increase in the number of civilian employees associated with the extended military establishments. Notwithstanding the artificial aids of migration, the absorption of large numbers of persons in the Army and the increase in civilian employment associated with the Army, we still have a hard core of unemployed represented by the figure of 105,000.
One might be inclined to say that that is a gigantic figure having regard to our circumstances and our population; but, when you add to it the dependents of those signing at the employment exchange, and when you add still further the numbers dependent on home assistance or outdoor relief and the numbers dependent on unemployed workers who are temporarily out of employment through illness and living on National Health Insurance, I think you will find that the roll-call of the unemployed in this State is approximately 300,000. That number represents approximately one-tenth of the entire population, but, obviously, substantially more than one-tenth of the industrial and agricultural population. That situation would be bad at any time. My complaint is that the difficulty is being intensified and aggravated by the complete absence of a plan to deal with that situation as we know it to-day. There appears to be no plan whatever and there appears to be no appreciation whatever of the still greater magnitude to which that problem may grow in the months that lie ahead.
We had a statement the other day from the Minister for Supplies, a statement which is in marked contrast with the speech he made in this House a few months ago, to the effect that we are facing a crisis of the first magnitude. That is the declaration now. The last authoritative declaration of the Minister concerned with the preservation of industries and with the procurement of raw materials for industries is that, in his view, we are facing a crisis of the first magnitude, but, notwithstanding that, there does not appear to be the slightest grain of evidence that the Government are facing up to the unemployment position which is going to flow, and to flow rapidly, from that crisis of the first magnitude. The ordinary unemployed man to-day may just trek off to the labour exchange to get the miserable pittance of his unemployment benefit or to try to get unemployment assistance, of which large numbers have been deprived for the past week and of which they will continue to be deprived for the next six months, but there is no evidence either in Ministers' statements or in any Governmental activity to indicate that there is a fragment of a plan for dealing with that situation.
We appear here in our relatively undeveloped circumstances to regard unemployment as something we are predestined to endure, as something which it is the destiny of the ordinary working-class man and woman to suffer, but if we could possibly make hunger as infectious as foot-and-mouth disease, I think we could rouse some people from their present state of indifference towards hunger and towards the sufferings of hungry men and women throughout the country. Under both Governments, unemployment has been looked upon as something from which we can never escape, as something about which we might talk at election times but make no effective effort to deal with between one election and another.
I took the trouble recently of calculating the cost of idleness to the country over the past 18 years in the loss of purchasing power and the capital value of emigrants who left this country since 1922 and I arrived at a figure, for that period of 18 years, in the vicinity of £800,000,000. If we had put these people into employment and had garnered for the nation productivity to that extent, we could have built 200,000 houses at £800 each and spent £200 on furnishing each of them; we could have electrified the railways at a cost of £50,000,000; we could have redeemed all the outstanding land annuities; we could have bought out every holding in the Gaeltacht under £10 valuation and afforested the whole area; we could have provided a substantial number of up-to-date hospitals, and parks for every town with a population over 7,000; and we could have rebuilt 2,000 national schools; and we could have bought and run a mercantile marine as big as those of Sweden and New Zealand together. But we are apparently quite happy to allow unemployment to remain with us and to try puny methods for dealing with it.
No reference to unemployment could be complete without a reference to the condition of poverty which is endured by a large number of persons who are registered as unemployed. At present, over the greater portion of the country, the maximum unemployment assistance paid is 14/- per week and a man with a wife and five children may have to live on that sum. If any Deputy reflects for a moment on the picture of life within a household where seven people have to live on 14/- per week, he will realise that the condition of life in such a household is a long way below the high ideals, the worthy ideals, set out in the new Constitution. For that family of seven persons, there is a sum of 14/- available, representing 2/- per day or ¾d. per meal. Can anybody imagine endeavouring to purchase a meal for ¾d., having regard to the cost of living to-day, or can anyone imagine a family of seven trying to exist for a day on 2/- for food alone, to say nothing about the necessity of paying rent, providing boots, clothes, furniture, domestic requisites, medicines, school books and all the other articles which ought to be the right of every person in a civilised community?
I want to ask the Government whether they intend that that situation should be allowed to continue, and whether they are satisfied to have a vast army of unemployed people in this country enduring a condition of life which is mirrored in the payment of that low subsistence rate by the unemployment exchange? I say to the Government in all friendliness that they are sitting on a powder barrel in respect of unemployment, and that it would be very unwise for them to carry on the present complacent policy in existing circumstances because the unemployment problem we have had in the past will be enormously intensified during the coming months, and apathy and indifference on the part of the Government at this stage will make it impossible to grapple with that problem as effectively as it ought to be grappled with, if we are to avoid the economic chaos which is going to follow from the intensification of the problem.
The other aspect of the matter to which this motion is addressed is the question of planning to deal with these wartime circumstances and planning for the post-war period. It is for the purpose of dealing with present problems and the problems which will arise following the war that we are anxious that a national economic council should be established. Everybody who has taken the trouble to read the declarations of statesmen in other countries will acknowledge that the one point upon which they all agree is that, after this war, a new order will enthrone itself on so much of civilisation as is then left. It must be clear to everybody that, having regard to the present gigantic expenditure on arms, the dislocation which has been caused to industry and agriculture and the complete uprooting of existing activities which will take place on return to peace, that the end of the war will be just the prelude to an intensified struggle for the means of livelihood. That will be particularly so in small countries such as ours where we have got neither the mechanical efficiency nor the tradition of technical skill necessary to make a speedy change to meet a new situation of that kind.
This new order, whether we like it or not, may well enthrone itself in Europe and elsewhere throughout the world and, just as in the matter of supplies, it will be quite impossible for us to imagine that we can ever escape its consequences or ensure ourselves against any of its repercussions here. We should be thinking about it; we should be keeping abreast of those countries that are thinking about it; we should be planning to-day to meet the situation which will follow on the conclusion of the war. But here, anxious to maintain a halcyon atmosphere, we have not even contemplated doing anything to face up to this world situation. We have no machinery for dealing with existing problems in an effective or comprehensive way. We do not appear to have even thought of the machinery we will need, or the thinking-box we will require, to adjust ourselves to the conditions that will supervene when peace does come. One might well be forgiven if, at this stage, one thought that the Government's policy was to leave this country as just an interesting survival of the civilisation that endured up to the outbreak of war in 1939. That civilisation in a post-war world will mean economic degradation for our people, will mean chaos in agriculture and industry, and will reduce the standard of living in this country substantially below even its present low level.
The motion which we have introduced seeks the establishment of a national economic council, because we are anxious that on its establishment it should be charged at once with the task of dealing with the worst evils which have flown from the war in Europe and that, when these problems are in hand, or concurrently with the application of a solution to these problems, the national economic council should also plan for the situation which will arise in the immediate post-war period. It may be urged on behalf of the Government that national economic councils are not practical things and that here it is quite unnecessary to establish such a council. Well, at one time, the Taoiseach used to believe that all this country needed was an economic council, a kind of economic G.H.Q., which would act as the eyes, the ears and the brains of our economic activities. If the scheme was worth advocating in 1931, it is as good to-day in 1941. There has been no vital change in our economic sluggishness in the meantime judging by the number of people who still have to register at the employment exchanges. The only thing that has happened is that the Taoiseach has changed his position in this House. What he regarded as something desirable and necessary in 1931, when he was in opposition, the Taoiseach apparently does not regard with the same urgency in 1941 when he is in office.
On the question of the practicability of the establishment of an economic council, there is abundant evidence to show that not only did such councils work and that not only can they be made to work, but that immediately prior to the present war, they were in operation in a number of countries in Europe. These were countries which are not as undeveloped as we are. These were countries the productivity of which was immensely greater than the productivity of this country. Economic councils were functioning in Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy and even in China. The membership of these councils varied but they had, in all these countries, the same common function, namely, to act as a national planning authority. An examination of the reports issued by these councils from time to time and a survey of their work, by those who are interested, will show that they played an important part in the ordered planning and the ordered development of the nations over whose economic destinies they were given control. Why then is it not possible to establish a national economic council here? If it was possible for all these countries in Europe, much better developed than we are, with greater organic strength in the realms of industry and agriculture, to establish with profit these economic councils to plan ordered national development, what set of circumstances prevent the establishment of such a council here?
In August of last year when this matter was debated on the motion for the adjournment, we had from the Taoiseach the most surprising declaration he has ever made having regard to his previous utterances, that there was no need for a planning authority in this country because Ministers and their advisers are the natural planning authority. Even a cursory examination of a statement of that kind will show that it was not planning the Taoiseach had in mind but sheer bureaucracy, sheer totalitarianism, if the Minister and his immediate subordinates are to do all the planning that is necessary for this State and all our economic wisdom is to be wrapped up in their minds. We can have a Christian Constitution, a democratic Constitution. We can read fine words into the Constitution, we can fill every text-book with fine flowery phrases about it but when we come to decide upon methods of economic government, the only democracy we shall permit ourselves is the democracy of having a Minister and a few of his higher officials initiating, directing and supervising the entire economic development of the country. That is totalitarianism, not democracy; and a constitution which runs side by side with that condition of affairs is a travesty of democracy. Then, we had from the Taoiseach in August last this kind of rhythm: "If the economic council is not large, it will not be representative; and, if it is large, it will not work." Who could reason at all with a mentality of that kind? I confess that I am not able to reach to that high level of metaphysics—that an economic council which is not large will not be representative and that one which is large will not work. Then you are supposed, from the Taoiseach's declaration, to find something else which will not have these two objections —it is not to be large and it is not to be small. The Taoiseach only permits you to find something which is not large and which is not small, and which apparently must not be anything in between.
Other countries have managed to overcome their difficulties in this connection. Finland has an economic council numbering 20; Portugal has one of 20; Belgium, one of 35; France, one of 150; and Germany, one of 326.