Deputy Dillon, in the course of his speech paid a tribute to the officials of the Department. I have had a fair amount to do with the officials of the Department. I have spoken to a number of Deputies of all Parties, and I can say this: that there is nothing but a full recognition on all their parts of the courtesy and helpfulness of the different members of the Department. Certainly, that holds true of any one of them with whom I have come into contact. They are perfectly loyal to the policy of the Government, perfectly loyal to the Government, but, within the limitations that have been imposed upon them from the top, they are anxious, as far as I can see from a fairly extensive experience, to be helpful to the consumer and helpful to those who bring cases before them. Any criticisms, therefore, that I have to make fall completely and solely on the Minister. The Deputy who has just spoken referred to his failure. His failure in many respects is spectacular. Unfortunately also for the country it is catastrophic. But it is more than failure. From anything that I have heard from various merchants all over the country who have been accustomed to import various supplies, he has not only failed to be helpful: he has been decidedly obstructive over the years of the crisis.
The problem of supplies presents two aspects: the lack of useful, and even essential commodities in the country, and the distribution of whatever supplies there are. So far as providing the country with a sufficiency of supplies goes, the Minister has completely and wholly broken down. He has, from the various things that I have heard, even prevented by his regulations and otherwise those who, through private enterprise, might have introduced a sufficiency of supplies to the country, from doing so. I do not think there was anything more cynical on the part of the head of the Government than to re-appoint a Minister with such a record of failure in the Department of Supplies to another important Ministry, namely, the Department of Industry and Commerce, while allowing him to keep in control of the Department of Supplies. With such a record, the only justification that I can see on the part of the Taoiseach for doing that was that he hoped that whatever the Minister's activities would be in the Department of Industry and Commerce they might keep him away for some time from the Department of Supplies, and then it might get on.
Whatever the general opinion of the country may be as to the politics and the policy of the different Parties, every Deputy must be aware of the opinion—it is not by any means confined to one Party—that prevails in the country as to the way in which the Minister has carried on and has performed his duties as Minister for Supplies. We are often, of course, met with this particular argument: "What can he do? He has only a certain amount of commodities at his disposal and he has to do the best he can with these." What we complain of is that it is largely, I do not say wholly, his own fault that he is presented with that unfortunate situation, namely, that supplies are so limited. The only foresight that I have seen recently on the part of any member of the Government was displayed in the last half-hour by the Minister's colleague, the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, when he introduced a Bill to provide what might happen in six years' time, namely, a Bill to extend the life of the next Parliament from five to six years. That is the only kind of foresight that I have seen displayed on the part of the Government.
Year after year in discussing this Estimate since the crisis arose one thing has had to be pointed out and that is lack of foresight. I admit that on each occasion one was faced with the problem: "Well, what do you propose to do now?" The obvious thing was that the man who was lacking in foresight in the first year of the crisis could not be trusted not to be lacking in foresight in the second, the third or fourth year of the crisis. It makes me shiver when I hear that particular Minister say that he has plans for the future. God help the country if he has. He has failed to solve, or even to attack, the major portion of its problem.
When we come to the other side of the question—distribution—I think it will be generally acknowledged that it is not an easy task. I fully admit the difficulties and the intricacies of the problems that were bound to face any Department in a time like this. With the plethora of Orders which it has been considered necessary to issue, I often wonder whether it is possible for people carrying on business here not to be driven out of their minds by these particular Orders.
Every Deputy is aware that hardly a day passes on which we are not presented with what is practically a new Act of Parliament, because that is what these Orders amount to. Now, many of these are due to lack of foresight. The Minister hastily adopts a certain measure. I do not know whether at any period, even in his more vigorous days when the Government first came into power some ten years ago, he ever did examine in any detail the implications of his policy or certain lines of his policy. He certainly does not do it now. Both Deputy Mulcahy and Deputy Dillon have stressed the undesirable, shall I say, social effects that are bound to follow from some of the measures which the Minister proposes; that is in connection with the ordinary making of clothes by those in the country who have to live in that particular manner. It may not be the most economic way, it may not even satisfy the Minister's aethetic taste as regards clothes, but socially— and remember the social aspect is very important—it is probably much more desirable to have a number of independent craftsmen of that kind than to have those rich, big manufactories. I am not saying that it is the most economic way, but undoubtedly it is a thing the destruction of which should be regretted from the social point of view. I doubt whether the Minister even considered that particular aspect of the case—the distress that he would cause in the country.
Again and again various things have been put up to the Minister. There are two members of that Front Bench who pay not the slightest attention to any argument put up in this House, no matter from what side of the House. One is the Taoiseach. The more you argue with him, though he might agree with you in the beginning, the more you find that he is dead against you. That is his particular method of reaction. The Minister, with whom we are dealing now, shuts his mind to any suggestion. He will listen to nothing, he will learn neither from what people say nor from the experience of the people of the country.
To a large extent, therefore, in dealing with either of these Ministers—the Taoiseach himself or the Minister for Supplies—it is largely a waste of breath. Now and then the Minister comes into the public Press and makes public pronouncements. One of the Deputies to-day was rather shocked at the contradictions that appeared between the different statements of the Minister. I doubt if there is anybody in the country at present who really expects a statement of the Minister to have any foundation in fact, whether his statement is pessimistic or optimistic. I think he is quite incapable of presenting facts as they are. I do not say by any means that he is deliberately misleading the people. But certainly nobody in the country could take his statement on Government policy, on the position of supplies, on the position of any particular commodity, as something on which that person could build his conduct for one month ahead. There is really no relation between the Minister's statements and facts. When it came to supplies, the main duty of the Minister during those years was to have got in an adequate supply when it was still possible to do so, or to see that an adequate supply was got in. Leaving that on one side, when you come to the actual distribution and to the various Orders with which he has felt it necessary to flood the country, there were two ways in which he might have acted. I remember a time when, dealing with tariffs and other things, if you suggested to the Minister that a certain amount of supervision was necessary to see that manufacturers who got all the benefit of tariffs did not profiteer at the expense of the country, the Minister got most indignant. The suggestion that there was any necessity for watching over these people was a slur on the good Irish character of these manufacturers. But, if you are to take the line adopted by the Minister at present, it is the assumption that every shopkeeper, unless he is rigidly watched, is trying to profiteer, to deal in the black market, or, in one or another way, to cheat. As I said, there were two methods of approaching the very difficult problem—I admit it is a very difficult problem—of the proper distribution of supplies in this country. He could have got into friendly relations with people—it would be a troublesome way, I admit; it would require thinking the matter out—he could have consulted people, even listened to them—which, apparently, is the thing he finds most difficult—and got their good will. But I think it is apparent, not merely from what he says, but from what is being done, that he was convinced that the most effective way to deal with this situation was the big stick; to get as much repressive legislation as possible.
I remember—I do not think my memory is playing me false—when we were discussing this or allied problems before, the Minister took up this particular line so far as defaulting distributors were concerned: It might seem an absurd thing, or it might seem unjust, or it might seem unwise, because a person was found to have charged a halfpenny more than the scheduled price for matches, or butter or anything else, that he should have a heavy fine imposed upon him. But his argument was this: "We must assume that only one in every 100, possibly one in every 1,000, cases of overcharging comes to the notice of the Minister and, therefore, it is necessary to come down extremely harshly or very ruthlessly on those particular cases that we can prove." I think that was the policy of the Minister, and I think the Taoiseach gave his cachet to that particular policy on that occasion and used a similar argument. Now that has to be looked at from two points of view. I grasp the argument of the Minister, but I put it to him, and I put it to the Dáil, that it might involve a violation of justice. There have been cases in which officials in the discharge of their duty have gone into shops, looked through the books of the shopkeepers, and found out a few cases of slight over-charges. I do not say that all over-charges were slight. It is the policy of the Minister, as I understood him to say previously in this House, that these people must be prosecuted and fined heavily. I am not quite clear why that should be. Is it the assumption that these people have been guilty on many other occasions, but that they were not caught? There is no evidence of that. We probably all know of people who have been caught in one or two cases of overcharging where there was no suspicion or no evidence that they were continually or frequently guilty of any such overcharges, even small overcharges. I put it that merely to teach a lesson to others—because that can be the only justification for it—it is unjust to punish people beyond what is fair for their offence. It has been pointed out —and again, in this instance, we have a further violation of justice—that such a case is dealt with by the court and the court has the evidence before it. It may be said that the court only considers the two small offences but I must say, judging by the fines imposed —I do not want to exaggerate in the slightest—these particular fines certainly are not justified by the two small offences that may come before the court. They are substantial fines. In other words, as far as I can see, the courts do take into account the existence of these malpractices and the justices inflict a fine that they think is adequate to meet not merely the two small violations of the law, but the general malpractice. Is it fair, in that particular case, that the Minister should do what amounts to inflicting another penalty, a much more severe penalty, namely, withdrawal of a permit?
The Minister, on a rather celebrated occasion, speaking in this House, took up the line that the giving of certain permits is a matter of discretion for the Minister. He was dealing with a particular matter, but, apparently, we must assume by his conduct that what held in that particular case of a petrol permit should be applied all round, that is, that it is a matter of discretion for the Minister to give or to withdraw permits—a privilege to the trader. I do not think that ought to be the case —it is quite wrong. I think it ought not to be a matter of discretion for the Minister that, because he thinks a certain person is not a desirable trader, he can withdraw the permit from him. The court has already dealt with that man. What the Minister is doing is, using the verdict of the court as a proof that the bad character—in the commercial sense—of that man has been established. I suggest that that is not just. Let the fines be sufficient.
There are cases against over 1,000 people outstanding at the present moment, I think. That does not suggest that there is any laxity on the part of the officials of the Department of Supplies in finding out these offences. There is another thing that has been stressed. I think it is inevitable—and the Minister ought, therefore, guard against it, because the tendency of any Department, no matter how excellent, would be in that direction—that a civil servant is inclined to assume—and very often the better civil servant he is the more he is inclined to assume it—that an ordinary business man in the country must run his business like the Civil Service. The Revenue Commissioners do the same. I used to be amazed— and my amazement, I may say, goes back 20 years; I am not saying it is all confined to the period of office of the present Government—at the naiveté of the Revenue authorities in assuming that ordinary business men in the country had an accurate knowledge of how much they were making, and how much they were losing per year. I know something about business men in the country, and the last thing I would credit them with is a knowledge of that kind. It is no slur on the Civil Service; it is inherent in the very character, so to speak, of that body, but you must guard against it. That is all I say.
I think there is here also too great rigidity. Owing to the desire of the Minister to put down black marketing, there is too great a tendency to be too rigid in the application or in the working out of these particular rules. No allowance is made for the ordinary business failures—or whatever you like to call them—of the ordinary people in the country. It is a serious matter. There are Deputies in the House who know business people in every town and village in this country, and they must know perfectly well the extent to which a large number of these business men and women are practically driven off their head by orders, super orders, counter orders and amendments of orders. You cannot get from the people in the country that apple pie system that you would expect from a Civil Service Department. If you got it, probably the business in which it was attempted to be tried out would be bankrupt in a couple of years. That, again, is no slur on the Civil Service. They are two different kinds of activity, but I suggest it is the business of the Minister—it is why Ministers are there as distinct from heads of Departments—to control that, to see that it does not work unjustly and to see that it does not work detrimentally to the general interests of the community. I do not think he has done that.
Reference has been made—I think by the last speaker—to the difficulty there is in getting certain things. I was speaking a few weeks ago to a village carpenter. I asked him "What is the price of bands for cart wheels at the present time?" He said: "First of all, you cannot get them at all.""Well." I said, "when you can get them?" I have heard different prices mentioned by different people. His price was £12 a pair. I asked him, "What is the price of the ordinary cart, complete with bands and everything else?" He said, £30.
Was it necessary that there should be a scarcity of these things? We all remember—I think I referred to it before—the great campaign there was for the saving of paper. I never saw any such effort to collect scrap-iron. I do not know whether it was even considered or not. It may be said that it would be too costly to collect, but there was a time—at least so I was assured— when there was a scarcity of iron for ordinary purposes such as horseshoes and bands for carts.
Surely, an effort might have been made to collect all that scrap iron. There is hardly a house I know where the people would not be glad if somebody would call and take away the scrap iron. The amount of scrap in any house might not be very great but the amount in a street might be considerable. I was told by a smith that he could only shoe horses if those who brought them to him brought iron with them. That shortage obtains practically everywhere. While that shortage exists and while carts are the price I was told they were, farmers are asked to put their last ounce of energy into production. As was frequently pointed out, there must be a measure of co-operation on both sides. The Minister demands from shopkeepers, farmers and others full co-operation. I suggest that many of the measures for which he is responsible and the way he has insisted upon these measures being carried out has made co-operation impossible and has made—I am sorry to say it—goodwill difficult. That was one of the great failures of the Minister.
One never knows where he is with any statement by the Minister. At one period, there was a shortage of flour in the Dingle Peninsula. I approached the Department, was met with the customary politeness there and everything that was possible was done. A short time after that, there seemed to be an over-supply of flour. I never heard what the explanation of that was. I remember having to take up with the Department the supply of kerosene in the same Peninsula. I have nothing but praise for the politeness with which I was met in the Department. I am not referring to the recent shortage in respect of which an explanation was given to Deputy Fitzgerald-Kenney by the Minister. I am referring to the winter months of 1941, when the people were left in darkness. When the attention of the Department was drawn to the matter, they did what they could. I ask the Minister to consider specially the cases of very poor districts. I am speaking for a district that has never voted very strongly for me. Deputy Kissane will bear that out. The people there are very poor and lead a hard life. The fishermen, particularly, deserve special attention as regards a supply of kerosene for their boats. I am not finding fault with the sub-department that deals with that. They have to make the best of what they have got. I am only pleading for a little more generosity in what they do get from the general supply.
Reference has been made to the lack of artificial manures. Some reference was also made to the small quantity which had recently been introduced here from the United States. It may be that our shipping space for bringing things into the country is limited but have we utilised that shipping to the best advantage? Why is it that, at a time when there was so strong a drive for increased agricultural production, we got in no artificial manures? Do not tell me that they were not there. Twelve months ago or more, I heard the Minister for Agriculture in England speaking over the radio and thanking the American Government for the considerable help they had given to his particular industry—agriculture—by the amount of artificial manures they had sent into the country. What effort was made, and with what success, by our Government to get a share of these artificial manures—absolutely essential,. as everybody knows, if the drive for increased production is to be successful? I cannot find that the Ministry made the efforts it should have made in the matter. I am not dealing now with the members of the Department. I think that they did their best in a very difficult situation. I am dealing merely with the failure of the Minister and I am anxious to identify the policy of the Minister, as it has appeared in the past four years, with the policy of the Government. Cynical Deputies, if there are any in the House, may suggest that I want to damage the Taoiseach. Leave that reason aside. He is responsible and the Government is responsible for the failure of this Department. This Department and the Department of Agriculture are our two most important Departments and I doubt if, in any other instance, the Ministers have so completely fallen down on their jobs as these two Ministers. Nobody in the Government can escape responsibility for that. It is the responsibility not merely of these two Ministers but of the Government as a whole. Whether one has regard to the Minister's failure to secure an adequate supply of essential commodities or the way in which he has harried and persecuted a large portion of the population, I say that the Minister responsible for this Vote has failed, and lamentably failed.