Adjournment Debate. - Cost of Clonsast Turf.

To-day in the House, and on 20th November last, I addressed the following question to the Minister for Finance:—

"To ask the Minister for Finance if he will state (a) the cost per ton on the bog of the turf produced during the 1941 season at Clonsast, the cost of the haulage per ton of such turf from the bog to the railhead at Portarlington, the cost per ton of its transport by rail from Portlaoighise to Dublin; (b) the cost per ton of transporting turf by road from Clonsast to Dublin, and (c) the total quantities of Clonsast turf carried by (1) rail, and (2) road to Dublin up to October 31st, 1941."

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister, who is also known to Deputies and to the people of the country as the Turf Controller, furnished this rather amusing reply:—

"Turf is produced at Clonsast by the Turf Development Board, Limited, and sold by them on a commercial basis."

That is the answer to the query as to what is the cost per ton of the turf produced at Clonsast. He goes on to say:—

"The cost of haulage and rail transport is the subject of a business arrangement between the parties concerned."

That is another rather amusing answer to a request for a figure. Continuing, the Parliamentary Secretary said:—

"Generally, the question relates to administrative matters within the competence of the Turf Development Board, and in this regard I would refer the Deputy to the replies made by the Minister for Industry and Commerce to questions on such matters asked by him on 16th June, 1936, and 9th February, 1939."

On 9th February, 1939, in reply to a question addressed to the then Minister for Industry and Commerce dealing with the quantity of turf produced at Clonsast, and the conditions under which such turf was produced, Mr. Lemass said, as reported at column 222 of the Official Debates, Volume 74:—

"I would refer the Deputy to the reply which I gave to a similar question addressed to me by him on the 16th June, 1936. On that occasion I told the Deputy that the particulars desired by him related to administrative matters, a settlement of which falls within the competence of the Turf Development Board and in which my Department does not interfere."

The position, I suggest, has been completely changed since the Turf Development Board was transferred to a section of the Department under the control of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance. As far as I understand it, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance, by virtue of the powers conferred upon him under the Emergency Powers Act, has complete control over the production and distribution of what is known as national turf, and that includes turf produced in Clonsast.

To confirm that, the Parliamentary Secretary, in reply to a supplementary question put by me on 20th November (Official Debates, column 849, Volume 85) asking him: "Is it a fact that the Turf Development Board is now under the control of the Parliamentary Secretary," said: "The answer is in the affirmative." As a Deputy in this House I have good reason to know that the Parliamentary Secretary, under the powers conferred on him in the Emergency Powers Act, has given directions for the distribution of the turf produced at Clonsast. He did order, I believe, at a particular date, that all the turf produced at Clonsast should be sent to Dublin. Will he deny that? I would be the last in this House to charge the Parliamentary Secretary with discourtesy in replying to questions, but there is no doubt that the reply given to the question addressed to him by me on 20th November last is more like a reply that would be given by a school-master to a schoolboy, and I am not prepared to accept the position of schoolboy in matters of this kind.

I suspect that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance, the Turf Controller, who is in complete control of the turf produced in Clonsast and the turf produced by the county councils throughout the country, will not give me this information because he suspects that, if he gives the information to the House and puts those figures on the records here, his colleague, the Minister for Supplies, will find it extremely difficult if not impossible to convince the people of this city that they should be charged at the rate of 64/- a ton for the best of turf produced in Clonsast. I assert here now that about six weeks or two months ago the best of turf was produced in Clonsast bog under trade union conditions at 22/6 a ton; that the cost of carrying that turf from the bog to Portarlington station was 5/- a ton, and that the cost of carrying it by rail from Portarlington to Dublin was at the rate of 7/11 per ton, making 35/5 per ton for the best turf produced in this country and landed in the City of Dublin. I can imagine that, if those figure are anything like correct, it will be extremely difficult for the Minister for Supplies to justify a charge of 64/- a ton to the citizens of Dublin. There is 28/7 to be accounted for, if my figures are anything like correct.

The Parliamentary Secretary, when he was appointed to the position of Turf Controller, appealed to all Parties in the House to co-operate with him in carrying out the difficult task that had been handed over to him, and handed over to him at a time when it had been muddled and messed by the four different Departments which were dealing with the turf production scheme in this country up to the time when he was appointed to the position of Turf Controller under the Emergency Powers Act. He has, as far as I know, been given all the co-operation which he invited. On the other hand, I think it is only fair that he should be frank with Deputies of this House and give Deputies information of this kind to which, as representatives of the people, they are quite rightly entitled. If he has the information in this possession—as I have good reason to believe he has, because he is a competent head of the Board of Works, and he is, I would say, a competent Turf Controller—it is not fair that he should withhold it from the Deputies of this House.

At any rate, I think it is quite unfair for the Parliamentary Secretary to refuse to give information which Deputies are entitled to ask for and get. I should like to hear from him the reason why he persists in refusing to give this information to me or any other Deputy who may seek information of this kind. I contend—I may be wrong—that the Parliamentary Secretary, in his position as Turf Controller, is in quite a different position from the position occupied by the Minister for Industry and Commerce on the 9th February, 1936. I believe it is true that at that time in 1936 the Minister for Industry and Commerce did not interfere in the detailed administration of the Turf Development Board, but I also believe that the position is quite different to-day, that the Parliamentary Secretary and Turf Controller is almighty so far as turf production and distribution is concerned, that he has this information in his possession and he has given no good reason for refusing to give it to me.

One thing at any rate Deputy Davin has made clear is the consistency of the conduct of those who from this bench have spoken for the Turf Development Board, when over a period from 1936 to 1941 he has had in relation to precisely the same question, precisely the same answer. What I have to say is that that answer, then and now, is based upon precisely the same grounds. This House in its wisdom has set up a series of Governmental or semi-Governmental—I do not mind what phrase you like to use—organisations whose purpose it is to use the money and the resources of the State for doing, as they think and as the House thought, more suitably to the purposes of the State, things which ordinarily might be done or perhaps left undone by commercial organisations. In its wisdom, consistently the State has tried to give such organisations as it has set up a reasonable chance of carrying on business under the same circumstances and with the same facilities and the same possibilities of success as an ordinary commercial enterprise. It has not merely been rather anxious, but it has specifically declared its anxiety to safeguard these institutions from what one might call day-to-day interference, questioning and examination from the Oireachtas in relation to matters which the ordinary commercial firm would not be required to answer for here.

That may be wise, or it may not, but it is consistent history over a long period of years, and covers an immense amount of money which the State has used in particular ways. In every one of those cases it has, as far as it was possible to do so, safeguarded the ordinary commercial activity, contracts, etc., of these associations from being put in a worse position from a commercial point of view than the activities of other organisations. As I understand it, the idea which was behind the mind of not merely one Government, but of the two Governments, was that that form of semi-Governmental trading should have a fair run for its money, a fair run for the money of the State, and a fair chance to do its work. It is for that reason, utterly unrelated to the nature of the questions which are asked that, as I have said, and as my predecessor has said, these being matters which are within the administrative competence of bodies set up for a special purpose and intended to be so safeguarded, in relation to no question which does come within that competence, whatever it may be, will I accept the position that I must give information to the House.

The only new point which the Deputy has brought out, one in which there might seem to be some element of reasonableness, is that having regard to the fact that the Turf Controller has control over the activities of the whole of production, distribution, and so on, therefore he must have control over a particular part of the production and distribution of turf. However, that argument unfortunately goes too far, because were I to assume exactly the responsibility which the Deputy attempts to put on me in relation, not to Clonsast, because Clonsast is only a small portion of it, but in relation to the Turf Development Board, one of whose activities is centred in Clonsast, taking the Deputy's argument on its face value, if I give him that information or any part of that information that comes within the administrative capacity of that portion of one organisation which is cutting and producing turf, I must take responsibility for giving to the House in relation to every association, Governmental or otherwise, in relation to every part of its activity in the production and distribution of turf, precisely the same information, and I must take the responsibility of ascertaining that information.

I always like to give Deputies of this House their fair side of the argument. One thing that is perfectly certain is— I think there is no person who has the slightest doubt about it—that the refusal in this case has no element of discourtesy. It is founded on a principle and on the understanding of a principle which may be wrong, but a principle which has, from the very beginning up to the present, been accepted by this House. It has been accepted by this House to cover Governmental money running into many, many millions of pounds.

In the ordinary case the difficulty which I have put against the Deputy's argument might not seem sound. But, fortunately or unfortunately, there is another order in existence which does enable me compulsorily to obtain all such information in relation to the production, distribution or carriage of turf in reference to every organisation in this country. Therefore, if I give this particular piece of information, or any other information of an administrative character, in relation to this particular activity, then logically I can be compelled to give to the House in regard to any firm in Ireland, in regard to any man in Ireland who is cutting, handling, transporting or dealing with turf, any information of any sort, kind, or description, that the curiosity or the interest or the perverted imagination of the Deputy may desire.

That is "cod" anyway.

That is actually the logical position. There is no escape from that logical position. The Deputy himself has declared the parallel and I say I have the power. It is the power which I have as Turf Controller; not my power in the ordinary way in relation to the Turf Development Board, but my power as Turf Controller which the Deputy demands that I should use for that purpose.

Why did you take the power at all?

Wait a moment; you just sit quiet. If I exercise that power in relation to any portion of it, then it can be demanded of me that I exercise it in relation to the whole ambit of my activity and to every single organism which is functioning in it. That was not the understanding this House had when it set up the Turf Development Board and it was not the understanding of this House when it set up the Turf Controller and gave him certain power to get information. Because I should be violating the intention of this House when it set up the Turf Development Board and I should be outraging the intention of the House when it gave me power as Turf Controller if I did what I was asked, I continue to refer the Deputy on this occasion, and will refer him on all future occasions on which he asks questions within the administrative competence of the Turf Development Board, to the answer which he has already received twice from my predecessors and twice from me.

That is democracy in disguise.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.55 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Thursday, 4th December.