I wish to second the motion moved by Deputy Norton. I think on a day such as this, with two items on the Order Paper, one of a kind which occupied only a brief period of time and a motion of the importance and the national character that unquestionably this motion is, such an attendance as is in the House since the motion started to be discussed, notwithstanding the fact that a call had to be made to fill the House, is liable to bring the reputation of this Parliament, in the minds of the workers, into considerably lower regard than it is already held, because if a motion which is catering for the actual sustenance, the bare existence, of a very considerable section of our community cannot succeed in filling the benches to any greater extent than the benches are filled here this evening it has to be taken either as cynical disregard for the hardship of these people on the one hand or, as I am more inclined to think, the reluctance of a good many of the Deputies to come here to listen to what they themselves believe in but will be compelled by the Party Whip to vote against later on.
I am perfectly satisfied, with Deputy Norton, from my conversations with supporters of the Fianna Fáil organisation and the Fianna Fáil Government that they have no more support for this proposal than there is amongst the ranks of Labour or any other Party in the country and it brings us seriously to question our democratic forms of government. I want to challenge the Minister on this question to-day: Does he say or can he feel in his conscience that he has the support of his Party behind him in imposing this Period Order? If he feels he has that, there is a very simple acid test he could apply to it and I would ask him, as I did on two occasions previously in moving the annulment of Period Orders, not quite as drastic as this one, to give the Deputies of his Party an opportunity of showing their consciences in this question by taking off the Party Whips. After all, we are all elected Deputies in this House from various parts of the country, cities and towns.
We are supposed at least to have a modicum of common sense and to be responsible to the people who sent us here and I do not think we ought to be all the time in swaddling clothes or tied up in tight bandages. When we come to an issue of this kind that is recurring here year after year, with increasing severity, but in a year such as 1941 when, as has been pointed out by Deputy Norton, it is the desire of the Government and of the Opposition Parties and of the country as a whole to try to consolidate all types of opinion, to bridge all class differences and gulfs in the national interest, I think it is anti-patriotic and criminally stupid for the Government to introduce a motion of this kind which cannot but have the effect of disrupting that national effort for solidarity.
Letters read by Deputy Norton indicate the feeling of the people who are going to suffer. I have bundles of letters of a similar kind, not alone-from my own constituency, but counties outside it. There is one, signed by a distinguished parish priest in County Galway, sending me 50 names of men who have no possible chance, he says, of getting work, and asking the Government to cancel and annul the Period Order. Then from Kilfinane, in the County Limerick, there is a letter in which the following occurs:
"As re the cutting off of the dole this is going to become a serious matter as there is a lot of grumbling and unrest already. Because of the Minister's action in cutting off the dole, they need not trouble about rationing tea and all the rest, for the workers and their families won't have the price of food unless they get assistance from the County Board of Health. Also from the Local Defence Force and the Local Security Force side of the matter by what can be seen I think all the workers will chuck in unless the Government are going to provide work or as an alternative give back the dole. They cannot expect a man to parade and drill and tramp the roads all night on an empty stomach."
There is another letter, from Cappamore, County Limerick, which says:—
"There are several men here with large families and, having to pay 4/- a week for a house, they have to live on a few potatoes and sour milk, to pay 4/9 now for a cwt. of coal and flour 3/- per stone. The shopkeepers have closed their doors as far as giving credit is concerned. We want work or is it out on the roadside we are going to be, eating the grass?"
From Caherconlish, there was a similar letter and from Doon, County Limerick, I received a letter from the secretary to the East Limerick Executive of the Irish Labour Party:—
"On behalf of the above, I call on yourself and Mr. Norton to use your strongest influence to have the Employment Period Order annulled. Otherwise every member of the Local Security Force in this district will have to withdraw. A country that is going to let the unemployed starve is not worth fighting for. I am giving you permission to use this letter in your Dáil debate if you think it will be any way effective to change their minds."
The Minister has told us on previous occasions and probably will tell us again to-day that an unnecessary scare has been raised from the Labour Party benches. I do not want to go into a long debate because the facts are so simple that they call for very little elucidation. They have been clearly covered by Deputy Norton, and I want simply again to direct the attention of the Minister and his Department to the cardinal facts of the case. The people are entitled to unemployment assistance under the laws of this land, while work is unavailable for them.
The Minister is entitled in certain circumstances to introduce a Period Order. Does the Minister consider that, in the application of that power, he has any responsibility whatsoever to see that he is not going to rob those people of their rights as citizens to a livelihood? What steps has he or his Department taken that would enable him to say that work is available for these people whom he is striking off, or what steps did he take last year, when he struck them off, to ascertain how many of these people did actually get employment? For three years previous to last year I have been asking that question of the present Minister's predecessor, and the Department of Industry and Commerce told us that they never attempted to trace these men once they were struck off as a result of an Employment Period Order, and that they did not concern themselves about them further until the men applied again for registration in the following October We are told, in the statistical returns, that so many people have ceased to be employed, but we never hear how many of these people have secured employment, and the transference from one page of the statistical return to another is very little solace or comfort to these unfortunate people who have no food or firing in their homes.
I say that the Minister and his advisers are taking a very serious responsibility on themselves when they impose this Order, if he or his advisers cannot say where exactly these people are going to get employment after they have been struck off on the 6th March. Last year we were told that, as a result of the Compulsory Tillage Order, there would be any amount of work available in the country, and we were also told that the Minister was contemplating a further scheme which would absorb a considerable number of unemployed people. I asked the Minister a reasonable question at that time, which was: Why not withhold the Employment Period Order until the proposed scheme shows itself? I ask the same question now. Why apply that Order on the 6th March, for married men and all kinds of people in these areas, until such time as work is available? I can assure the Minister that, when he can tell us that work actually is available for these people, no Deputy on these benches, or in any part of the House will dream of asking him to continue the payment of unemployment assistance for one day longer than is necessary. On former occasions I suggested to the Minister that the machinery at the disposal of his Department is quite adequate to protect the unemployment assistance fund from abuse. As time has gone on, the officials of his Department have got more and more experience in detecting people who were malingering and in protecting the fund, generally, from abuse, but I challenge the Minister to say that, with all the investigations that have been made, he can say that there is work available to meet the demands of the unemployed, at the present juncture, after they have been struck off.
Those people who have written to me —and I have the signature of a distinguished clergyman to back up what they say—ask that the Minister should send down somebody or come down himself and see whether or not they are telling the truth, and find out what are the actual conditions. In some of the villages and in rural areas in my own county, for which I can speak particularly, the conditions are worse than I have ever seen them in my whole life. Conditions were bad enough last winter, but they are far worse at present. Conditions are very bad even in the areas that are supposed to be excluded. Down around Athea there is one small area that is excluded from the operation of the Order, an area around Mountcollins, but even in the case of the area that is alleged to be excluded from the Order, what are the effects there? In such a case certain other conditions are inset, with which a man must comply before he comes under the exclusion clause, and I think the House should know of them. For instance, I have also the case of one man who had eleven children, ten of them alive. Two of his children were serving in the Army, two in the Local Security Force, six of them under the age of 14, and the mother was dead. Yet that man was struck off the register at the Newcastle West Labour Exchange, under the Employment Period Order, which actually was not applicable to that area. He was struck off because he was an unmarried man, and he says, quite naively: "If I am not a married man, where did I get all these children? Is it `losing' them I found them?" But that man was struck off. In the same week I had a letter from another man, from the same area, who said he was struck off although he had a wife and five children, who were hungry, because he was not a rated occupier. As he says: "I am not a rated occupier; I am only a tenant, and the landlord is the rated occupier."
If that kind of technicality, designed to deprive the people of their rights, were introduced by an alien Government here, the platforms of the country would ring and the walls of the country would be placarded with denunciations of such conduct, but that is the kind of thing that is being dished up to delude and defraud the hungry workers of this country. As I have pointed out, last year's order applied even in areas where it was not supposed to apply, and I presume that this year's order will also apply to areas where it is not supposed to apply, just as it is applied in the general sense. Deputy Norton has said that 52,000 people were affected by the order last year, and we can assume that the order will apply to at least the same number this year. If you take the percentage of married men amongst those who were knocked off last year—I estimated 42,000, the Minister said 16,000, and his figures eventually showed 20,000—I think it would not be an unreasonable assumption to say that each of these persons would be responsible for four persons— that is, for a wife and children. That means that you have over 110,000 people in this country being driven completely away from the doors of the social services without any consideration whatever, and the only reply is: "Let them go and look for home help." The home assistance officers and the local authorities have budgeted only to provide assistance for a certain type of case outside the case of the able-bodied men who are able and willing to work. They only budget for invalided old men and decrepit old women, and they are not competent to deal with, and have not budgeted for, this huge increase which is being thrust upon them.
When the Government accepted the principle that a man has a right to maintenance until work is provided for him, and when at that date they struck a levy on the municipal and urban areas to make a contribution towards this charge—we, in Limerick, pay 1/2 in the £, as others have to also—the rural areas did not contribute, and is it because they did not contribute that these people are to be struck off, regardless of the fact that these people are there? I say that the unemployed there are as much entitled to this thing as the people in the cities and towns that are making the contribution, because, on the first introduction of that law, the reason for its introduction was the promise of the Taoiseach that every citizen of this country, who was able and willing to work, had a right to maintenance from the State until work was provided for him.
Unfortunately, the plans to put people into employment have not yet materialised, and I submit that that charge and that responsibility is on the shoulders of the Government, particularly at this juncture when much more than the money to be expended is involved in this Order, because, by such action as you are now taking, you are laying the seeds that, perhaps, are going to shatter the magnificent solidarity and unity in the country which the events of the past six months have brought forth. On the one hand, you have Ministers going around, with the co-operation and assistance of all Parties in the House, pleading for solidarity and unity in defensive measures. How can you continue, without being a canting hypocrite, to ask these people to go on drilling and inarching and tramping around night after night when, as this chap says to me: "We are doing it on empty stomachs and without a crust at home for ourselves or our families"?
I do not want to say much more on this subject, but I would say, in all sincerity, that there is no question, in what we are saying now, of trying to score or attempting to make debating points on this side of the House so far as this question is concerned. We feel and believe that this is a question that requires very close and serious study, and I ask the Minister to inquire of any Deputy, whether of the Opposition or of the Fianna Fáil Party, and he will find out how serious the situation is. Or let the Minister go down himself and inquire into and investigate the matter, but whatever may be done, for goodness sake do not strike these unemployed people off, and, by doing so, drive them into the wilderness into which you are driving them, without making a close, personal investigation, and realising the seriousness of your action.