Perhaps I might be permitted to ask now that, if I have not finished my introductory speech on the Estimates by 5 o'clock, the House and you, Sir, will permit me to go beyond 5 o'clock by whatever few minutes I may require.
Estimates for Public Services. - Vote 50 — Industry and Commerce.
How much longer than 5 o'clock is it likely to go?
I should think not very much.
I move: —
That a sum not exceeding £1,522,000 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending the 31st day of March, 1951, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, including certain Services administered by that Office, and for payment of certain Subsidies and sundry Grants-in-Aid.
The Estimate for the Department of Industry and Commerce for 1950-1951 shows a net decrease of £1,064,414 as compared with 1949-1950, after excluding from the 1949-1950 column a sum of £74,096 in respect of the Central Statistics Office which is now provided for in a separate Vote. There are decreases on several sub-heads of the Vote but the principal decreases are in the provisions for food subsidies (sub-head J (1)), county councils turf production (sub-head O (2)), provision for repayment of advances for rural electrification (sub-head R) and salaries, wages and allowances (sub-head A). The figures shown in the 1949-1950 column for these sub-heads with the exception of "R" are the adjusted figures after account was taken of estimated savings for purposes of a token Supplementary Estimate last year. Compared with the provisions actually made in last year's Estimate, the reductions are approximately £489,000 on sub-head J (1), £384,000 on sub-head O (2), £300,000 on sub-head R and £105,000 on sub-head A.
The decrease of almost £105,000 in the provision for salaries, etc., in sub-head A is due in part to a further curtailment of emergency controls and in part to a special effort that has been made in my Department to reduce administrative costs. It will be of interest to Deputies to know that in the period from 1st January, 1948, to 31st March, 1950, there was a reduction of 408 posts, representing £125,000 per annum, in the sections of the Department provided for in this sub-head. These are net reductions after excluding the staff of the former Statistics Branch and the staff assigned to the Industrial Development Authority and now shown in sub-head S (2).
The supply position of commodities was reviewed in the Dáil quite recently on the passage of the Supplies and Services Act in December, 1949. I am glad to say that the supply position generally continues to be fairly satisfactory. During the past year distribution controls were removed from a number of commodities, and there were substantial easements in other controls. Some rationing schemes continue to be necessary, however, either because there is some element of uncertainty in the supply position of the commodity concerned or because they are complementary to arrangements for restricting the cost of living.
The provision which is made for food subsidies this year in the Estimate for my Department is intended to relate to tea. The tea supply position is safeguarded for more than a year ahead and purchases continue to be made in the countries of origin. In order to avoid unnecessary expenditure of subsidy I introduced revised rationing arrangements from 1st August last. These revised arrangements have worked satisfactorily and as a result the provision expected to be required for tea subsidy in 1950-1951 is reduced to £1,790,000 as compared with £2,000,000 in the Estimate for 1949-1950. Sales of unrationed sugar at the special price to manufacturers, caterers and general consumers have been, and are expected to continue to be, at such a high rate that it has been found practicable to dispense with a subsidy from the Exchequer this year for sugar. It continues to be necessary to retain rationing, however, because without it the dual price arrangement which enables the price of rationed sugar to be maintained at 4d. a lb. could not be operated. The sugar supply position continues to be satisfactory.
The supply position of petrol also continues to be satisfactory, but as Deputies are aware the purchase of petrol involves a substantial drain on our dollar resources and because of the uncertainty which naturally attends the dollar outlook for the future, I have been hesitant to abolish petrol rationing. I am keeping the position under very close review, however, and Deputies may be satisfied that as soon as it can safely be done the rationing will be abolished. The new system which has been in operation since the 1st January has not only removed inconveniences for users but has enabled administrative costs to be severely curtailed.
In pursuance of the policy of shedding as many controls as possible, controls on prices are removed at the earliest suitable opportunity and during the past year the number of Price Control Orders was reduced from 141 to 9. About half the Orders at present in force relate to the maximum prices which may be charged for foodstuffs for human consumption. Sufficiency of supplies and resultant competition coupled with consumer resistance to attempts at excessive price charging, have in many cases succeeded in reducing prices or in preventing increases. It is clear, however, that in the conditions obtaining in the importation, manufacture and distribution of many commodities in plentiful supply, it would be unsafe to place reliance on the laws of supply and demand and my experience is that judicious price control offers one of the most effective methods of keeping the cost of living in check. In addition to formal controls by Price Control Order, prices are kept in check by arrangements between my Department and individual concerns under which the profits of the businesses affected are kept from exceeding a figure fixed for each concern after an examination of accounts in the Department.
The cost-of-living index figures provide a pointer to the efficacy of those controls and arrangements which are still being retained. Taking 100 as the basis for August, 1947, the figure in February, 1948, and in February, 1949, was 99 while in February, 1950, it was 100. When Deputies reflect on the improvement in the prices of agricultural produce in the last two years, on the extension of protective measures affecting essential articles of clothing and footwear, the increases in wages and salaries consequent on the national agreement between organisations of employers and of trade unions, and the effects of devaluation which have been felt keenly in the clothing group, they must, I submit, agree that the present retail prices situation, while deserving of the close attention and concern it receives from the Government, gives cause for a high degree of satisfaction. I can assure the House that the trend of prices will continue to be watched carefully and that, where the public interest so demands, appropriate action will be speedily taken.
It will be noted that a token sum only has been inserted in sub-head O (2) which provides for the cost of the turf production scheme formerly undertaken by the county councils and now operated by Bord na Móna. In February last it was decided not to proceed with production under the scheme in the present season for the reason that operations in previous seasons have proved wholly uneconomic and in many districts difficulty has been experienced in disposing of the turf produced. Bord na Móna had, at the time, 83,000 tons of turf unsold out of a total production of 176,000 tons in the years 1948 and 1949. It will be necessary to dispose of a quantity of this turf at prices much below the actual cost of production excluding overheads and capital charges. It has since been decided to continue production under the scheme in a modified form in the present season and work is proceeding on that basis. Operations are confined to certain bogs in Counties Roscommon, Westmeath, Meath, Galway, Tipperary, Clare, Kerry and Limerick, where it is anticipated no serious difficulty will arise in the disposal of the turf produced and at a price which will cover the actual cost of production with a small contribution towards overheads, excluding capital charges. The expenditure on the scheme is estimated at £94,000 in the current year, and it will be necessary to provide for that sum by way of a Supplementary Estimate on this Vote later in the year. Receipts from the sale of turf in the year and the value of the turf remaining unsold at 31st March, 1951, are estimated to total £80,000. Consequently, it is anticipated that the net loss on the operations will be about £14,000. Employment will, however, be given to 850 men at the peak period.
A sum of £25,375 only appears in the Estimates for rural electrification subsidy as against a provision of £325,000 last year but I must explain that this does not mean that there is any curtailment of the development programme. On the contrary, the subsidy to be met this year amounts to £625,000, which is £300,000 more than last year.
All the capital for rural electrification is provided in the first instance in the form of advances from the Central Fund. Under the 1945 Act the Electricity Supply Board is liable for the repayment with interest of one half of the advances. The Act provides for the repayment of the other half to the Central Fund out of voted moneys, the purpose being to secure that the initial borrowings to cover the subsidy moiety of the advances will be repaid out of revenue.
In 1949-50 the amount voted covered the repayment of one half of the advances made in the calendar year 1948. This year it was decided that the requirement of the 1945. Act would be satisfied by charging to voted moneys an annuity designed to repay the subsidy moiety of the advances over the same term of years (50) as the Electricity Supply Board is given to repay the moiety for which it is liable. The effect is to reduce the immediate charge to voted moneys and to secure a fairer distribution over time of the burden on the taxpayer which the subsity for rural electrification entails. A further justification for the course adopted is that, while the capital for rural electrification will be provided over a relatively short terms of years, the benefits of the scheme will be of a lasting character.
It has been suggested in some quarters that there is a slowing down in the rate of progress of development and in order to dispel this misapprehension and clarify the position I may say that in 1947, 432 miles of line were erected and 1,286 consumers connected: in 1948 the mileage was 1,480 and the number of consumers connected 7,287: while in 1949 the mileage of lines was 1,997 and the consumers connected 13,087. In the present year it is hoped to erect 2,250 miles of line and to connect 15,000 consumers. It will be seen from these figures that the rate of progress since development commenced has been progressively accelerated and as the board's organisation becomes perfected and experienced it is reasonable to assume that there will be further progressive acceleration in the rate of expansion. So far as employment is concerned, the number of men at present engaged on the work is about 950. The Government and the Electricity Supply Board are anxious that the work should proceed as rapidly as possible. A difficulty which the board has had to cope with in its early stages was a shortage of skilled and semi-skilled workers but this has been largely overcome. The difficulty is and has been to obtain sufficient electrical engineers and the board has absorbed most of the students qualified in recent years from our electrical engineering schools.
The Industrial Development Authority is provided for under sub-heads S (1) and S (2). In the course of the recent debates in the Dáil on the Industrial Development Authority Bill I dealt at length with the activities of the authority and do not propose, therefore, to do any more at this stage than to refer in the broadest terms to the authority's functions and activities.
The authority has carried out much preliminary work in connection with the development of export trade; export credit arrangements; methods of increasing efficiency or production and reducing production costs; the range and quality of industrial products; alternative activities for industrial concerns already established here which, for reasons beyond their control, have not proved successful; the arranging of financial assistance for new industrial projects, and the counteracting of devices adopted by outside firms to evade tariffs.
Since its inception the authority has had before it over 200 industrial proposals. Of these, many relate to things not hitherto made here. Many of the projects are in an advanced stage of development and the erection of factory premises is actually in progress in several cases. In a large number of other cases the authority has been engaged in discussions with a view to bringing about an expansion of the activities of existing concerns, mostly outside the Dublin area. The authority is in direct and continuing touch with a number of local development associations and has made contacts for some of them with persons, both within and without the country, anxious to establish industries here. Members of the authority have visited over 60 factories including some in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as at home. This is a new departure in the investigation of tariff applications or new industrial proposals and is regarded as particularly important because it reveals a type of information and gives a background knowledge that could not be obtained from a mere examination of documents.
In the last year new industrial projects went into production in the counties of Carlow, Cavan, Cork, Dublin, Galway, Kildare, Laoighis, Leitrim, Longford, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Tipperary, Waterford, Westmeath, Wexford, Wicklow. In all, over 60 factories were opened during the year and in addition many existing factories extended their activities.
I do not want to burden Deputies with statistics but perhaps I shall be pardoned if I mention just a few figures which will illustrate the extent of our progress on the industrial side in the last 12 months. The provisional estimates of the numbers engaged in industrial production show an increase from 184,000 in 1948 to 206,000 in 1949 — an increase of 12 per cent. I might add that the comparable figure for 1938 was 166,000.
In the year 1949 the volume of production in the industries producing transportable goods was 7 per cent. above the volume for the year 1948, and 43 per cent. above the volume for the year 1938. For the last quarter of 1949, the volume of production in these industries showed an increase of 10 per cent. over the volume in the last quarter of 1948. In industry as a whole (i.e., including building and construction, public works of the State and local authorities, transport and public utilities), the provisional figure of production show a volume increase in 1949 of 9 per cent. over 1948 and of 39 per cent. over 1938. In 1949, as compared with 1948, the most notable increases in output of industrial goods occurred in the production of tobacco, bricks, pottery, glass, cement, metals, timber, textiles and clothing, fellmongery and leather, and paper-making and manufactured stationery.
These figures speak for themselves. They tell a story of steady progress and, I suggest, clearly reflect the confidence of the public in the Government's industrial policy.
It is important that our industries should be as efficient as possible and I would most strongly and earnestly urge on everyone connected with industrial activity how essential it is to cut out wasteful and out-dated methods and processes so that quality goods can be produced at competitive prices. Reports from different undertakings disclose discrepancies in productivity which show that there is substantial room for improvement in the rate of output by certain concerns. Some businesses have found it very useful to take advice from an industrial consultant, others have effected improvements by modernising their methods and installing the latest machinery. The services of the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards, which is financed by an annual grant chargeable to the Vote for Industry and Commerce, are available to all industries wishing to take advantage of them. I hope that our manufacturers, either by contacting the Institute or through some other means, will do their best to bring their undertakings to the highest pitch of efficiency so that Irish-made goods will command sale at home and abroad on their merits. A new £25,000 laboratory for the Institute is nearing completion at Ballymun Road, Glasnevin. Of the sum of £11,800 provided in the sub-head Q (3). £4,600 will be required to defray the balance of the cost of the erection of the laboratory and the remainder will be spent on apparatus, furniture and library acquisitions. When this laboratory is completed later in the year I hope that the Institute will become a really effective force in Irish industrialisation.
Last year, in furtherance of a campaign to foster the sale of Irish-made goods and overcome the preference for imported products which appeared to me to be retarding Irish industrial progress, I allocated £3,000 from the Advertising and Publicity Sub-head for advertising to publicise Irish manufactures. In the coming year it is proposed to devote £2,500 from sub-head E for this purpose. Advertisements to date have been confined to newspapers but the question of utilising other media this year is being considered. Deputies will recollect that I made an appeal in the House 12 months ago for support for this campaign. It is unfortunate that, despite all the measures taken to promote the development of Irish industry, there should exist to-day such a strong trade and consumer resistance to the produce of our own factories. I estimated that last year up to £60,000,000 worth of goods of categories which were being made here or which could be produced in the country were imported. I regret to have to inform the House that the "Buy Irish" campaign has not yet succeeded in making any noticeable impression on this huge figure. For my part, I can assure the House that no effort will be spared to secure the manufacture in the county of saleable goods in adequate quantity. I am satisfied, however, that a sustained effort is needed if this resistance to Irish goods is to be overcome. I want to repeat here to-day my appeal for the support of all Deputies for this campaign.
I have mentioned building work. So far as the building control is concerned all I need say is that until we have worked off arrears of urgent essential work (i.e., housing, hospitals, schools, factories, etc.), the building of cinemas, dance halls, etc., will have to continue to be postponed. I may mention that rough estimates give a total of £21,000,000 for the value of building work executed in 1949 and a probable total of £25,000,000 for 1950.
It has been obvious for some time that our cement manufacturing capacity is quite inadequate to meet the present and prospective needs of the country. One of the problems which we had to face was whether the necessary additional capacity should be provided by way of extending the existing factories or by the erection of a new factory. I am advised that the capital cost for a new factory with a rated output of 250,000 tons would be £2,700,000, while the cost of extensions at Drogheda and Limerick with a similar rated output is estimated at £1,900,000. In the case of a new factory, in addition to the extra capital cost there would be a heavier burden of overhead expense. I am advised that the erection of a new factory would involve an additional cost of 10/- per ton on cement produced as compared with the cost of cement produced from extensions to the existing factories. There would be some saving in freight by having a third factory, but nothing like enough to counterbalance such a heavy increase.
In these circumstances the Government have signified their approval of proposals for extensions to the existing factories at Limerick and Drogheda. These extensions will provide additional rated capacity of 250,000 tons making, with the existing factories, a total rated capacity of 625,000 tons per annum. The factories would have a potential output during peak periods of more than the rated capacity and should be capable of meeting the needs of the home market at the present rate of consumption. One of the extensions should be completed in about 18 months and the other in about two years. The additional employment which would be provided by the two extensions is estimated at 180.
External trade continued to improve. Imports in 1949 fell to £129,000,000 as compared with £136,000,000 in 1948. Exports rose by £11,000,000 to £60,500,000 as compared with £49,000,000 in 1948. As a result of these favourable factors our adverse balance of visible trade declined to £69,000,000 in 1949 as compared with £87,000,000 in the previous year. Of our total imports in 1949 amounting to £129,000,000, £74,000,000 were imported from Britain and the Six Counties and £55,000,000 from other countries. Of our total exports amounting to £60,500,000 £54,500,000 went to Great Britain and the Six Counties and £6,000,000 to other countries.
During the year officers of the Department of Industry and Commerce travelled to London, Frankfort, Paris and The Hague for trade negotiations. So far as industry is concerned the results of these negotiations were to provide increased facilities, under trade agreements, for the marketing of our industrial products abroad.
The overall increase in our exports in 1949 was accompanied by an encouraging increase in non-agricultural exports as compared with 1948. If we disregard exceptional non-recurring items such as £2,500,000 for exports of aeroplanes in 1948 and the abnormal parcel post exports in 1949, the nett normal non-agricultural exports in 1949 were £12.6 million as compared with £10.2 million in 1948, representing an increase of 24.3 per cent. The main increases took place in food, drink and textiles, the bulk of which were exported to great Britain.
During 1949 the O.E.E.C. as part of a general scheme to liberalise trade, required each participating country to free from import and currency restrictions at least 60 per cent. of its trade on private account for other participating countries. Considerably more than 60 per cent. of Ireland's imports are free from import restrictions and O.E.E.C. acknowledge that Ireland operates one of the most liberal import régimes in Europe. Nevertheless, O.E.E.C. requested that a list of goods be announced, for which authority to import and currency facilities would be granted automatically and without limitation. Such a list covering about 63 per cent. of Ireland's imports from O.E.E.C. countries has been sent to that organisation and the necessary modifications in the exchange control Orders have been made by the Minister for Finance. Belgium, Luxembourg, Western Germany and Switzerland have been excluded from the scope of the currency relaxations because they are hard currency areas.
O.E.E.C. decided in November, 1949, to arrange a joint exhibition of European goods in the international trade fair to be held in Chicago in August, 1950. The Government decided that Ireland should participate jointly with other European countries and undertook to assist Irish exhibitors by defraying the cost of renting space and equipping display booths to a limit of $650 per booth measuring ten feet by ten feet. This decision of the Government was given Press and radio publicity and all firms interested in the export trade were invited to a series of meetings held in my Department for the purpose of encouraging participation in the fair. Seven Irish firms have agreed to exhibit at the fair and I have booked the necessary booths on their behalf.
There has been some criticism in the past year of the extent to which the Factory Acts and those later Acts which have replaced a great part of them — the Conditions of Employment Act and the Holidays (Employees) Act — are being enforced by the factory inspectorate. In particular, the complaint has been made that the inspectors are not visiting all the premises concerned at least once a year. It is true that in recent years there was a falling-off in the number of visits paid; this was due to a shortage of staff, which was a direct result of the war. The staff of the inspectorate is now being built up again, though much difficulty is being experienced in finding suitable personnel to act as inspectors. The results of this increase in the factory inspectorate staff are now beginning to be seen. In the first quarter of this year, for example, the total number of visits of inspection was 1,747 as compared with 1,092 in the first quarter of 1949.
Provision is again made for minerals development. The Oireachtas passed a Bill this year providing for further advances to be made to Mianraí Teoranta for exploration and development work in the Slievardagh Coalfield and the sum of £20,000 which is provided in sub-head N (1) represents the share of the additional funds so authorised that is expected to be required in the current financial year. Provision is made in sub-head N (2) of the Estimate for payments to the company for prospecting work in Avoca where the Government authorised a scheme to be undertaken within a total cost of £120,000.
There are indications that because of unexpected difficulties that have been encountered in the exploration, the sum of £120,000 may not be enough to enable the exploration to be completed but the company have reported to me that it is too early for them to be able to furnish a revised estimate. Provision is also made in sub-head N (4) for expenditure required to complete a special survey and analysis of gypsum and an hydrite deposits in the Carrickmacross-Kingscourt area. This exploration is designed to get information about the size of the deposits and the relative occurrence of the minerals. I have also secured the approval of the E.C.A. for special technical assistance so that I may be advised as to the best means of developing these deposits in the national interest. The expert assigned by E.C.A. has arrived here and is engaged on the investigations necessary to enable him to make a comprehensive report to me. Apart from the operations of the State-sponsored company, it can be said that there is greater activity than ever before since the State was established in regard to minerals on the part of private interests which are now operating on mineral deposits in a number of areas. I have also sought the approval of E.C.A. for a technical assistance scheme under which a geophysical survey would be made here by specialists from the United States of America, but I have not yet been advised of the decision of E.C.A. on this application.
The great importance of tourism in the national economy is evidenced by the fact that the income from it has been estimated at as much as £28,000,000 in 1949. But, in present conditions, its real importance lies in its dollar earning potentialities. The dollar income from tourism last year amounted to $12,000,000, out of a total income from all sources of $30,000,000. The Government are fully conscious of the importance of the industry and have been at pains to ensure that a plan for its development, which is likely to succeed in its object, will be worked out. I want to make it clear that the Government are not reluctant to spend money for the further development of this great national industry; but they want to be assured before spending money that they are spending it on purposes likely to secure the advancement of the industry. I anticipate that in the course of some months I will be able to put forward proposals which will satisfy this requirement and which will, I hope, secure the approval of the Dáil. The maximum provision which existing legislation permits to be made for the Grant-in-Aid of the Irish Tourist Board has been made in the original Estimate of £30,000 and the Supplementary Estimate of £15,000 for Vote 14.
While the determination of the broad plan for tourist development must necessarily take some time, the Government have, in the meantime, taken certain important steps towards increasing the flow of American visitors to this country. The question of joint publicity in the United States to promote off-season travel to Europe was considered by the tourism committee of the O.E.E.C., on which this country is represented, and it was decided that a campaign should be undertaken as an O.E.E.C. project. The Government decided that this country should participate in this joint publicity campaign during 1950 and agreed to make a contribution to O.E.E.C. for this purpose which has been fixed at $15,000 for the year. Provision for this contribution is made in sub-head H of the Estimate.
During the year, there were discussions with the E.C.A. Mission to this country on the question of securing American technical assistance and advice as to the manner in which Irish hotels should be developed and improved to enable the country to obtain a fair share of the American tourist traffic. This matter was also discussed at the Tourism Committee of O.E.E.C. and that organisation approved of a scheme under which missions from European countries were dispatched to study American hotel methods and allied subjects. Four representatives of this country were included in the first party which went to the U.S.A. on the 16th January, 1950. Their reports are at present being considered. The approval of E.C.A. has now been sought for securing the services of a group of American technicians to survey and report on the hotel position here and on other matters affecting the development of tourist traffic from the U.S.A. In addition, there have been discussions with E.C.A. and Irish hotel organisations about a proposal to send a party of hoteliers to the U.S.A. The approval of E.C.A. has been obtained and it is intended that the visit will take place in September. It will afford to members of the Irish hotel trade an opportunity to study American hotel methods and on their return they will be expected to make available for the benefit of the hotel trade in general the information and experience they have acquired.
Other steps taken to foster dollar tourism were the visa requirements for American visitors, the modification of import regulations relating to the quantity of goods which American tourists might bring into this country without payment of duty and of the export licensing requirements. American visitors are also provided with liberal allowances of petrol for their cars.
An important decision taken by the Government during the past year was that State aid should be provided for improvement of the passenger handling facilities at Cobh. A new customs shed and waiting room will be provided with adequate heating, lighting and sanitary arrangements and furnishings. A preliminary estimate of the cost of the work is £75,000 but reclamation and quay wall extension is necessary and trial borings have had to be undertaken on the site to verify this estimate. These borings are expected to be completed shortly. The execution of the proposed scheme has been entrusted to the Cork Harbour Commissioners who will contribute £10,000 or 10 per cent. of the cost of the work, whichever is the less. The State contribution will be made from the Vote for Transport and Marine Services.
Part of the funds provided for the Irish Tourist Board will be devoted to a scheme for the booking of accommodation here on a block basis by the board and for the sale of that accommodation to American travel agencies. It is hoped through the medium of such a scheme to mitigate to some extent the adverse effect which shortage of suitable accommodation might have on the tourist traffic from the U.S.A. Provision has as usual been made for a substantial grant to the Irish Tourist Association to supplement the contributions made to the association by local authorities.
The Estimate for the Industrial and Commercial Property Registration Office shows a small increase of £780, mainly in the provision for staff: but on the other hand there is an increase of £5,000 under the head of extra receipts payable to the Exchequer in the expected income from fees.
Provision is made in a separate Estimate — No. 51 — for the transport and marine services administered by the Department of Industry and Commerce. The sum provided in this Estimate for the current year is £370,040. This compares with an original Estimate of £262,600 for last year. As Deputies are aware, it was necessary to ask the Dáil last November to pass a Supplementary Estimate for £4,091,000 under this Vote to enable Córas Iompair Éireann to carry on.
The affairs of our main transport system and, in particular, its financial difficulties have been considered by the Dáil in the course of the debates on the Transport Bill and the Supplementary Estimate. I am sure Deputies will not wish me to deal again with the ground covered in those discussions. The Bill is now law and the board will be established on the 1st June.
Perhaps I should take this opportunity to announce the personnel of the new transport board. The chairman of the new board will be Mr. T.C. Courtney, M.E., who has been chairman of the board from February, 1949. Mr. Courtney was formerly chief engineering adviser to the Department of Local Government since 1934, and railway inspecting officer to the Department of Industry and Commerce.
Mr. John Bruton, chairman of the Dublin Port and Docks Board since 1948; ex-chairman and present vicechairman of the Irish Cattle Traders' Association and the Cattle Traders' Insurance Board; chairman of the Standing Committee of the Irish Coursing Club; and director of the Irish Public Bodies' Mutual Insurances Limited.
Mr. Dominick Leo Daly, director, M.D. Daly and Sons, Ltd.; Irish Dunlop Company, Limited; managing director, Carrigaline Pottery Company, Limited.
Mr. Patrick Joseph Floyd, traffic manager of the Great Southern Railways Company from 1928 to 1942.
Mr. Edward H. Murphy, director and secretary, Murphy Brothers, Limited, Ballina; director of Ballina Flour Mills; member of four associated committees of the Irish Flour Millers' Association.
Mr. William Murphy, official of the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union.
Senator John Thomas O'Farrell, member of Seanad Éireann from 1948 and from 1922 to 1936; Irish secretary of the Railway Clerks' Association, 1918-1948.
This Board will have an onerous and responsible task; I am sure that Deputies on all sides of the House will be anxious to give them every assistance in establishing an efficient and economic transport system which is so vital to the convenience of the public and to the development of agriculture and industry and commerce.
Deputies will have observed that no provision is made in the Vote for the current year for payments to Córas Iompair Éireann. I have already indicated my view that for some years to come it may not be possible to avoid calls on the Exchequer. As the new board will be established on 1st June, it is only reasonable to await a report from them when they have had an opportunity of considering the matter and reporting to me what they anticipate the financial position of the company will be.
In his Budget statement on 3rd may, the Minister for Finance indicated that provision would be made for financial assistance to Córas Iompair Éireann during the present financial year. The entire debenture interest for which the company will be liable during that year, including interest payable in respect of transport stock substituted for the common stock of Córas Iompair Éireann and the Grand Canal Company, amounts to £450,000. The Minister for Finance has made provision so that he can meet these payments from the Central Fund. Under the State guarantee contained in the new Transport Act, these moneys must be met from the Central Fund if the board is unable to meet them. Payments of interest are normally met from revenue and are deducted in arriving at the profit or loss in the annual accounts.
As the House is aware the new Bill provides for the setting up of a Transport Tribunal to deal with the branch railway lines, branch canals and any other matters which the Minister for Industry and Commerce may refer to it. When the board has been established, the Government will proceed to appoint the tribunal. The entire expenditure of the tribunal will fall to be borne by the State. When the Estimates were being framed, it was not possible to estimate what expenditure was likely to arise during the present year. A token sum of £5 has been included in the Estimate under this head.
Provision is made under the heading of steamer services in respect of the subsidy to the Galway Bay Steamboat Company. The cost of this subsidy has been increasing and there have been continuing difficulties in connection with the operation of the service. Last year, I informed the company that the Government were prepared to provide the additional subsidy required to enable the service to be increased from one round trip per week to two per week to facilitate the islanders. Owing to labour difficulties, the company have been unable to introduce the improved service. Now that the main rail and road transport system is being entrusted to a State-sponsored board, I feel that it would be more appropriate if the steamer service for the Aran Islands were undertaken by Córas Iompair Éireann. Discussions are proceeding with a view to the future operation of the Aran service by the new board.
The principal item covered by this particular Vote relates to grants for harbours. A sum of £340,000 is provided this year, compared with £235,010 last year. £250,000 of the proposed expenditure in 1950-51 may be classed as capital expenditure. The House will be aware that my predecessor took the initiative in providing assistance from the Exchequer to enable harbour authorities to carry out improvements or to make good arrears of maintenance and repairs resulting from the years of the emergency. As a number of Government Departments are concerned, he set up an inter-departmental committee to examine applications received for assistance. This inter-departmental committee has been continued by me and is at present examining applications made by a number of harbour authorities. In some cases, it is necessary to have a survey carried out before a decision can be taken as to the soundness of a scheme of improvement put forward. I must express my appreciation of the good work being done by harbour authorities in maintaining and improving their harbours. I know that in some cases there is a feeling that the time being taken before a decision is reached on applications for State grants is too long. I can appreciate the anxiety of harbour boards to get ahead with their schemes, but they may not realise that it is essential that there should be a thorough examination of these works before they are undertaken. The term of office of the harbour authorities newly constituted under the Harbours Act, 1946, will expire this year. I have notified harbour authorities that arrangements must be made to have the new boards elected in the autumn.
Provision for Aviation and Meteorological Services is made in a separate Estimate — No. 52. The total sum provided is £702,610, compared with £1,142,310 for last year. This shows a decrease of £439,700.
During the past year, there have been no outstanding developments in civil aviation, but steady progress has been made in providing first-class airports at Shannon and Dublin and developing our air services through Aer Lingus. The principal buildings and works required at the two airports have already been completed. The works in progress at Shannon include the building of a new control tower to replace the one destroyed by fire some time ago, the erection of a new fire station, the improvement of the facilities for customs, health and immigration services and the extension of the airport shop. There has been a shop at Shannon from the beginning, but it was little more than a kiosk. There is much more space in the new shop and it provides a good opportunity for the display of tweeds and other goods of Irish manufacture. It sells also other articles of a kind usually sought by tourists. There have been a number of favourable comments on the new shop and it is proving a progressively expanding source of dollars. At Dublin Airport, the principal new work is the erection of a hangar required by Aer Lingus for the overhaul and maintenance of their aircraft. Work on this hangar is proceeding rapidly and its construction will probably be completed by the autumn.
The sum provided in the Estimate for subsidy in respect of air services is £50,000. The figure for last year was £300,000. I explained when introducing the Estimate last year that the figure included provision for arrears because the payment of subsidy had been held up pending the passing of a Bill to extend the subsidy limit contained in the Air Navigation and Transport Acts, 1936 to 1946. This measure was introduced during the year and was passed by the Oireachtas. All outstanding subsidy was paid to the air companies before the end of the last financial year. Aer Lingus had expected to have a loss of £125,000 for the year ended 31st March last. The accounts of the company for that year have not yet been audited, but I understand that the loss will be in the neighbourhood of £60,000, i.e., about half of the original Estimate. I think that the company deserve congratulation for this substantial improvement compared with the previous year when the loss shown by the accounts was £162,000.
The number of staff employed by the air companies on the 31st March, 1950, was about 1,500. During the year, the companies introduced provident funds for their staffs. These funds are contributory, but they involve heavy contributions by the companies, particularly in the case of pilots who normally retire between the ages of 40 and 45. I think this was as desirable development. After allowing for the additional payments to these funds, Aer Lingus estimate their loss for the current year at £100,000. Deputies are aware that half the losses of Aer Lingus are borne by the British corporations which participate in the company. The provision of £50,000 in the current year's Estimate, therefore, represents the balance of the expected losses.
Aer Lingus continue to maintain their excellent record as an airline and their traffic continues to grow. During the year ended 31st March last, they carried 199,023 passengers compared with 167,349 in the preceding year. The freight carried was 2,029 tons which was an increase of 90 per cent. over the previous year. Last year, the company opened a new service between Dublin and Birmingham and a summer service between Dublin and Jersey. Both of these services have proved to be a success. The company are continuing to concentrate on the development of the existing routes and I think this policy has been fully justified. They expect to have still heavier traffic during the present year. At the peak in July and August they will be operating up to 18 services each day from Dublin to London and the same number in the reverse direction. In order to cope with the heavy traffic and to make more use of their aircraft, they have decided to introduce night services between Dublin and London, commencing early in June. This will involve opening Dublin airport on a 24-hour basis for the summer months. The night services will be operated at reduced fares. Such services have already been introduced between London and Paris and on other continental routes, and it seems to be an experiment which is worth trying between Dublin and London.
Last autumn, there was an approach from the United States Government with a view to the amendment of the 1945 Air Agreement. That agreement gave all the five freedoms to the United States airlines at Shannon airport, subject to the one condition that aircraft are required to make a landing there if flying over Irish territory. The representations made by the United States Government are still under consideration and I hope that the House will agree that, in the circumstances, it would be preferable not to enter into debate on the merits of these proposals at this stage.
Air agreements have been concluded with the countries from which air services are being operated to and through Ireland. During the past year, Royal Dutch Airlines (KLM) commenced services through Shannon Airport to America, bringing the number of regular airlines using the airport up to ten. An Italian airline is expected to commence services through the airport to America during the present summer. During the year ended 31st March, 1950, the number of aircraft landing at Shannon was 6,115, compared with 6,439 for the previous year. The number of passengers was 164,777, compared with 157,666 in the previous year. Of the 164,777 passengers, 132,230 were in transit and the remaining 32,547 were embarking or disembarking at Shannon. These figures confirm that Shannon Airport plays an important role in connection with our tourist trade. It is expected that traffic will be particularly heavy at the airport this year, with the extra services bringing pilgrims to Rome from North America. This is already reflected in the traffic figures; the number of aircraft landing at the airport in March was 18 per cent. higher than the figure for the corresponding month last year.
We have continued to play our part in the work of the International Civil Aviation Organisation. The organisation is governed by a council of 21 states which meets in Montreal. We were elected to the council in 1946 and the Government propose to seek reelection this year when the council is being appointed for a further term of three years.
I hope that I have given sufficient information to justify to the House the expenditure proposed for the services for which I have responsibility. If, however, there are any matters which have been omitted and on which Deputies may require information, I shall be glad to supply it when I am replying to the debate. The outline which I have given of the main items within the purview of the Estimate gives, I think, every reason for optimism. Particularly gratifying are the continuing upward trends in industrial production and industrial employment, and the improvements in the supply position. I am satisfied that the operation of the services for which I am answerable to the House has contributed appreciably to economic progress during the year. To finance the administration of these services, I come to the Dáil for the necessary funds.