A few days ago the Minister for Supplies delivered a lecture to his political supporters under the heading—"Let us face the Facts." That was a very appropriate heading. It would also, I think, be an appropriate heading for this debate. It is about time that this Parliament and nation faced the facts as they are. At the present time there is in this country a growing feeling of hostility towards Parliamentary institutions. Nobody, except a person employed in a Government office, or a member of the Government, perhaps, can close his ears to the mutterings of that campaign. At the moment we are only hearing the first great murmurings of that protest. Therefore, I say that unless we face the facts, these murmurings will swell into an angry roar, demanding the abolition of democratic government and the substitution therefor of a socialistic or communistic form of dictatorship, such as has been established in some other countries in Europe.
What are the facts at the present time? Suppose the 130 odd elected representatives of the Irish people who sit in this House found themselves marooned to-morrow on some island in the middle of the ocean, what is the first thing we would do? Would we start by looking out across the waters to see if some big banker, some Government official, or some financial expert was coming to us with a roll of notes, or a fat cheque book to provide us with the means of improving our position? No; we would first of all survey the position of the island and take account of whatever food supplies were on it; to see how we could best provide ourselves with the necessary food, clothing and shelter. In other words, would we not, for the first time in our lives, put our heads together and face the facts? The first thing to do would be to make a survey of the quantity of food that we had in the nation. The second would be to try to make provision for the growing of increased supplies for the future. In addition to that, we would have to see about providing shelter. If we were to adopt the methods which we in this country adopt, we would have to wait until somebody would provide us with paper currency from some source in order to get to work, but if we were facing facts as we would be facing facts in such an isolated condition we would not wait for any paper currency, or for any financiers or bankers to come to our assistance. We would get to work at once. Those Deputies who have some knowledge of agriculture would be put to work on the land. Those who have some knowledge of building would be put to work to provide us with houses. In a word, we would all get to work as sensible people, and thus ensure at least survival. What this nation wants at the moment, and what this nation expects from the 138 elected representatives here in this House, is that we will get down to bedrock facts and give the nation some hope of survival.
At the present time we are faced with a shortage of food, although we know that this country is capable of providing more than sufficient food for a much larger population than we have at the present time. Why are we faced with that shortage? Simply because nobody thought it worth while to face facts. Nobody thought it worth while to make provision for the future. Last year, a considerable amount of land was put under tillage. The greater portion of that land under tillage was applied to the growing of potatoes, oats and barley. When those three crops were produced, there was no market for them. There was a market for a limited quantity of barley. There was no market for oats or potatoes. Was that, I ask, facing facts? Was it encouraging the agricultural producer to get the maximum amount of food out of the land? As far back as last August I asked a question here in this House: I asked the Minister for Agriculture would he be prepared to assist the farmers with credit to hold over their supplies of oats and barley until a market would be available, but the Minister said "No". He said there was already machinery there through the Agricultural Credit Corporation, which every farmer knows is machinery that is not available to the farmer who requires credit. Later, in October, it struck me as a farmer that a sufficient effort was not being made to encourage or induce farmers to get in autumn sown wheat. I asked the Minister for Agriculture if he would be prepared to take steps to offer some particular inducement to farmers to get in autumnsown wheat. I suggested in the question which I asked that a special inducement should be offered which would increase the price of wheat, particularly to those who got their crop in before Christmas. The Minister replied that they were about to engage in a campaign for increased wheat growing and that there had been an increase of 2/6 in the price, an increase which every farmer knew was altogether inadequate and was completely cancelled by the already increased costs of production. That, in my opinion, was not facing facts. The fact that I put that suggestion to the Minister for Agriculture ought to show that the Deputies at this side of the House were not out to criticise or obstruct the Government, but were simply concerned about making constructive suggestions to them, and making them in good time. However, no notice was taken of that suggestion, and we had the position allowed to drift on until after Christmas when the Government found that supplies of wheat were becoming exhausted. Anyone with any knowledge of realities, or any desire to face up to realities, would have realised that September and October were the months in which to launch a campaign for an increased acreage of wheat. They were the months in which the best results would have been obtained from that campaign.
Last week, at a meeting of the urban council in Wicklow, the chairman of that urban council stated that there were children in the town of Wicklow whose feet were bleeding from the cold through the shortage of coal. A Government facing facts would not have allowed a situation to develop in which children in this country would have to suffer from such an acute shortage of fuel. I myself know that the statement by the chairman of the Wicklow Urban Council was not exaggerated. Any Deputy who has visited the cottage of a worker, particularly a cottage situated on the seaside, in a bleak, exposed seaside town, will realise how bitterly cold the weather was, and how bitterly cold it was in those cottages during the past two months. The statement that children's feet were actually bleeding from the cold was not exaggerated. Yet, we know that in this country there are and have been quite formidable supplies of coal in the hands of merchants and individuals, but those supplies were never properly distributed. In addition to whatever other complaints may be made in regard to coal, there was no reason whatever why last year we should have supported or tried to support, or pretended to support, an army of 100,000 unemployed, while we had tens of thousands of acres of bog which simply called for employment in the production of fuel. We know that the Government asked those engaged in turf production to increase their production, and we know that those people did increase it to the utmost of their resources, but we know also—at least, those of us who try to face facts know it—that those engaged in the production of turf are people with very limited means, with very limited resources, and with no capital to employ additional labour. Surely it was the duty of the State—the State which was paying 100,000 unemployed men, or paying them at least a portion of their maintenance in various ways—to put those men to work in the production of fuel, thus saving us from the humiliation of seeing children in this country, which is teeming with supplies of fuel, actually suffering acutely from the cold. That was a primary duty which should have been realised by those occupying the position of Government, and it was a duty which was pointed out to them by Deputies in all parts of the House. There was a necessity for direct action on the part of the State in the production of fuel, because it was only the State that could have taken up that work. It was only the State, with their resources, that could have provided us with supplies of turf.
It is the duty of the State, whereever possible, to employ men on the land. In towns where there are large numbers of unemployed, it should be the duty of the State to provide these men with adequate allotments and, where that is not possible, it should be the duty of the State to acquire plots of land and engage the unemployed upon them directly. There is no doubt that an unemployed man with a spade on an allotment will be much more useful than if he is left standing at a street corner or parading to the local labour exchange. What does he do at the labour exchange? Nothing, except that he signs his name. I was speaking to an unemployed man and he told me he was getting reconciled to being unemployed, reconciled to attending the labour exchange. I asked him what he expected would happen to him in the future and he said: "I am becoming so educated through signing my name every week at the labour exchange that I may have a chance of getting into the Civil Service and then I shall not have to work for the remainder of my life." That is the rather hopeless type of mentality that is being developed through the Government's policy.
The Government have been severely criticised over the hopeless muddle they made in the matter of petrol. I do not want to add anything to that criticism, but I should like to ask how it is possible to provide a court messenger, a man who simply runs messages with, possibly, some attendants to show him the way about, with 130 gallons of petrol a month when a dispensary doctor, upon whom the lives of hundreds of people may depend, is allowed only ten gallons a month? There is something wrong there. Surely there is some gross disregard of the real interests of the people when you can supply a court messenger with 130 gallons a month, as was stated here last week, and refuse a doctor in a mountainous district an extra ration beyond the ten gallons allowed. The Government claim to be a Christian Government, to be an example to the governments of other countries, but surely that is not an example of Christianity. A court messenger could easily get around on a bicycle and the dignity of the State would not be lowered if he had to find some other mode of conveyance than a V-8 motor car.
This is a matter to which the Government should pay attention, if they wish to live up to the claim that they are a Christian Government, and it is a matter with which we Deputies should concern ourselves if we claim to be the representatives of a Christian country. I am told—it may not be true—that petrol can be bought in this city at 8/6 a gallon. I wonder what kind of supervision or rationing has brought about that situation? I am told that any person prepared to pay 8/6 or 9/- a gallon for petrol can get as much as he wants. If that kind of profiteering is allowed under the guise of rationing and control, I think we would be far better off without a Minister for Supplies.
In connection with our food supplies, why is it that the unfortunate farmers are obliged to sell potatoes at 6d. to 8d. a stone while the poor in this city have to pay as much as 1/4 a stone for them? There is something wrong there and I think that in itself is one of the most serious evils under which this country is labouring. There is too much profiteering in essential foodstuffs. The net result of that profiteering is that the working classes are turning away from wholesome, home-produced foodstuffs, such as potatoes, vegetables, milk and butter, and are depending entirely on tea and other such commodities. If consumers of farm produce in our cities and towns were able to get their food supplies at a reasonable margin over the price which farmers obtain, I believe we would have more of our home-produced food consumed and we would have a healthier and a happier people.
I am afraid our Ministers are too much inclined to be benevolent to the speculator and the gambler in every walk of life, and that is not desirable. In a time of emergency there should be rigid control over people who try to corner supplies and make exorbitant profits. We have an example in the case of oats, where in some cases 200 per cent. profit has been made. We have the same position in regard to milk and butter. We had the position in the summer months when we were providing butter to the British at a very cheap rate and subsidising that supply in order to make it still cheaper and no attempt was made to foresee our own people's needs, with the result that we now have not enough butter. There has been no organisation, no foresight, no national planning. Everything has been allowed to drift in a haphazard way.
I suggest that, even now, we should begin to plan for the future. We should see that every unemployed man—and there are more than 100,000 unemployed —is occupied usefully. There are far more unemployed than have ever been registered at the labour exchanges, and the Government know that. Every unemployed man should now be converted into food and fuel. That may create a certain amount of amusement, but it does not require anything in the nature of a miracle to bring it about. Unemployed men, if put to work in the bogs right now will ensure that we will have sufficient fuel for the coming year, and perhaps for the next two years. Unemployed men, if provided with allotments and assisted to get into work in agriculture, will see that we have sufficient supplies of food.
It may be asked how we are going to assist the unemployed man to get into work in agriculture, but there is at least one thing you can do, that is, you can ensure that the agricultural employer will get back the wages he pays to these men in a fair price for his produce. If the farmer is guaranteed a price which will cover the cost of production, not only in respect of wheat, but in respect of other products also, the Government can rest assured that there will be increased employment on the land, and that that increased employment will be converted into the food which is urgently needed by the nation. No attempt has been made to assist in the financing of tillage operations during the next few months. In regard to the beet crop, I have pointed out before that ample provisions are made to finance the farmer's tillage operations over the summer months. He is provided with seed on credit, with manures and with an advance to meet his expenses in tilling and tending the crop. Farmers engaged in other branches of production which are equally important are not given any facilities. Why? Surely wheat, potatoes, barley and oats are as important as beet?
I do not altogether agree with Deputy Hughes when he says it might not be wise to grow as much beet as we intend to grow. I think that we should maintain last year's acreage, that we should even increase it, because not only does the beet crop ensure this nation supplies of sugar, it also provides a foodstuff, beet pulp and tops, which are equal to almost any other crop which can be grown on the land. An acre of beet is equal to the grain produce of an acre of oats, which shows that beet is an important crop. The other crops, however, are equally important, and it is equally essential that the credit facilities provided in respect of beet should be provided in respect of the other crops. Yet, the Government has refused to do so. They have allowed the profiteers, the gamblers and the speculators to make excellent profits out of seed wheat, oats, barley, and every other kind of seed as well as out of other supplies which the farmer needs, such as manures and implements. As Deputy Corry has pointed out, scrap iron has been brought from one end of the State to the other, and then brought back, and the cost of it falls on the tillage farmer when buying his implements and supplies.
This is a time for planning and for foresight. We all know what happened last year when the Government made a small attempt to look into the future. They apparently looked into the future with their eyes closed, when they advised parish councils to urge people in every walk of life to lay in supplies of tea, sugar, flour and coal. Surely our Ministers were not looking into the future with their eyes open when they issued that advice, the result of which is that people who could afford it have laid in supplies, but people who could not afford it, who live from day to day and hour to hour, are starving and cold to-day, because they have neither sufficient food nor sufficient coal, and are faced with the fact that before many months have passed they will be unable to get sufficient bread. I appeal to the Government to plan for the future.
In planning for the future, they have some models upon which to rely, which are not outside this country. I direct their attention again to the sugar industry. There we have a planned industry; there we have an industry in which there are no big profits being made by capitalists; there we have an industry in which the producer of the beet, the raw material, is guaranteed a fair price for his produce before he puts the crop into the land. In that industry he is given credit facilities, and not only that, but the workers in the factory are paid a wage far in excess of anything which can be paid on the land at present. If we can plan in regard to our supplies of sugar, can we not plan in regard to other supplies? Can we not look ahead? Why should we always be compelled to rely upon the very conservative and often not impartial advice of financiers and State officials? Why have the Government not sufficient initiative to plan something big for the future, as their predecessors did when they planned the sugar industry, and as they did when they extended that industry, and as their predecessors planned a national supply of electric power and light? What is needed at present is national planning, boldly conceived and courageously carried out.