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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 16 Nov 1950

Vol. 123 No. 6

Adjournment Debate—Farmers' Losses in County Cavan.

On the motion for the Adjournment, Deputy P. O'Reilly has given notice to raise the subject-mater of question 26 and 27 on yesterday's Order Paper.

Yesterday, at Question Time, I asked the Minister for Agriculture:—

"If he will state whether he received any communication on behalf of farmers in the Kilnacrott area, Mountnugent, Cavan, as to their losses of hay, meadow, pasture and crops through flooding in the present year, and whether he sent an officer of his Department to investigate and if so, the nature of the report he received from such officer, and what he proposes to do to enable those farmers who suffered such serious losses to survive."

To that the Minister replied:—

"I have received the communication referred to and an officer of my Department has investigated the matter. The flooding in this case has been caused by the River Inny. I understand that work has started on the clearance of this river by the local authority, in pursuance of their powers under the Local Authorities (Works) Act, 1949. My Department has no function in this matter, and there are no funds at my disposal out of which assistance could be given to farmers who have suffered losses as a result of flooding by the river."

I then put this supplementary question to the Minister:—

"In view of the serious position that has developed in several areas in County Cavan and in view of the people who lost their meadows, pasture and crop through flooding and therefore have no insurance to recoup them for those losses and have not sufficient cash to purchase foodstuffs such as maize, would the Minister consider the position confronting the farmers in those stricken areas and make some fund available from some source that would prevent the cattle from starving?"

The Minister's reply to that was:—

"Are those farmers in the area of the Killeshandra Co-operative Society?"

I replied "No", and then the Minister asked: "Have they a co-operative society?" and to that I replied: "Not that I am aware of". The Minister then said:—

"Perhaps the Deputy would look into the question as to whether any of those farmers have access to the co-operative societies with whom they transact business, either as suppliers or in any other capacity, as this would prove a source of assistance for them in any temporary difficulty in which they might find themselves".

I put the further supplementary question:—

"Is the Minister in a position to give any definite assurance as to financial assistance for them?"

To that, the Minister replied:

"I have no doubt that, with the assistance of the co-operative society, steps can readily be taken to ensure that they will be safely carried over any period of temporary embarrassment in which they might be."

The gist of the other question is the same and there is no use in taking up the time of the House reading it. The point is that the conditions described in my original question and supplementaries are not questioned by the Minister, even though he sent an inspector down to check up on the conditions there. I want to draw his attention to the fact that that is not the only area in County Cavan that is similarly circumstanced. I should like to point out to him that the areas of the River Erne, the River Annalee and of the Killenkere River, are in just as bad a position as that of the Inny where serious flooding took place during the past summer and harvest whereby farmers, through no fault of their own, lost considerable areas of meadow which they would have converted into hay, as well as other crops such as grain, potatoes and so on. I should like to say further that even where there was no flooding through the act of God in allowing bad weather, to which we must submit, the hay that was saved, probably 70 or 80 per cent. of it, was very bad. The prospect before the owners of cattle over wide areas, apart from the flooded areas, is certainly one that does not hold out very good assurances of survival.

The Minister has reminded me that a scheme for the drainage of the Inny has been undertaken under the Local Authorities (Works) Act. I am glad that over some months past I was able to be of some assistance to the local county councillor, Mr. Gillic, the correspondent who brought to the notice of the Minister the conditions in the Kilnacrott area and was responsible for getting a drainage scheme undertaken on the River Inny under the Local Authorities (Works) Act. It is the first sizeable job of drainage that has been done in the county under that scheme. I am very glad it is proceeding, notwithstanding that the area complained of—Kilnacrott—is almost three miles up-stream from the place where the drainage scheme is operating at the moment. Even if the drainage be completed in the present winter, which is unlikely, especially in view of the amount of money that is available for it, that will not serve to make provision in the way of food for the crops that have been lost as a result of the floods in the present year. Again, as I have said, the flooding is not confined to that area. It is fairly general. In order to give some tangible evidence of its effect on live stock even at present, I would like to ask the Minister is he aware that not alone in Cavan but all over the State the milk supplies to the creameries——

The Deputy will have to confine himself to the districts set out in the question.

Very well, I will confine myself to the county. In the Killeshandra creamery area, which can be said to be very representative of the county, as I am quite sure the Minister knows, the milk suppliers to that creamery, which serves a very extensive area, descreased by 15 per cent. during the month of October in comparison with the same month last year, and at the moment the decrease is 25 per cent. Now, that has occurred in a year when there was every prospect that there would be very good supplies of milk to all creameries. During the early part of the season and up to the end of the summer the milk supplies to all creameries were very much increased, not alone in Cavan but in general, as it evidenced by the amount of butter manufactured. But now in the month of October, while the cows are still on grass, we have that decrease in milk supplies to the creameries to the extent that I have indicated.

We have to visualise what would be the condition of the milk supplies about March and April next when the cows are four or five months eating this bad hay. Apart from the farmers who own those cows and whose problems will be to keep them alive, other sections of the community should regard the matter very seriously because, if the contingency should arise, which God forbid, that we should have another winter like the winter of 1946-47, what will be the prospect for milk supplies and, consequently, the ration of butter for the population? Despite the fact that there is a very good reserve of butter in cold storage, we can easily reach a point where the ration of butter would again have to be reduced. Let us hope it will not go to the point that it reached in 1947 when we had a ration of four ounces or, for a short period I think, of two ounces per week. Now is the time to guard against that by taking steps to safeguard the cows and other cattle as well, but I think we should base our efforts on the cow population as it is fairly well related to the total cattle population and is the source from which other cattle spring.

The Minister has told me that there are no funds at his disposal from which he could provide financial assistance to procure alternative feeding in the place of the hay and grain crops which our farmers have lost. While that may be so technically, on the other hand should technicalities be allowed to stand in the way of taking steps to ensure that a disaster will not overtake the cattle population and endanger the milk and butter supplies for all the people? I think the rules of procedure would not allow me to advocate a request made to the Minister by the committee of the Killeshandra Co-operative Creamery to subsidise maize. I understand I would not be allowed to make that suggestion since it would entail the introduction of legislation.

The Deputy is succeeding very well.

I think the Deputy would be entitled to advocate it.

I am not going to deal with a hypothetical matter.

If I am free to do so, I think that a reasonable case can be made for it. Through no fault of their own, the farmers in many cases have only half of the produce of their year's work and to tell them that credit through the co-operative societies will be available for them is like dangling a carrot before a donkey's nose because it is not within their reach. Even a co-operative society might be very cautious in giving any considerable amount of credit to people who they know are in the position that they might not be able to repay. Therefore, I think that credit alone will not meet the situation.

I can make another suggestion. Last week the Minister made an announcement that under the land rehabilitation scheme he was asking the Office of Public Works to undertake the removal of obstructions on some rivers which were retarding the progress of that scheme. That money, of course, would be made available from Marshall Aid. To my mind, that is a bold step. If the Minister is able to get through with it, in spite of the fact that, as I understand, the Arterial Drainage Act of 1945 prevents any interference with rivers scheduled under that scheme——

The Deputy might keep away from the rivers and come to cattle.

If the Minister can make funds available from that source for the drainage of rivers, then I suggest to him that it would be a very useful thing to make money available from the same source to save the cattle population by making available, say, a few cwt. of maize for each cow that a farmer owns and subsidising it in such a way that the people who have suffered severely may be in a position to substitute it for the bad hay they have and save their cows, not alone in their own interests, but in the interests of the people generally.

How much of a subsidy?

I suggest that the Minister would be better able to regulate than I would be. The Minister is in a position of responsibility, and it is his job to take steps to safeguard the cattle population. The Minister told me yesterday that maize would be available at £26 per ton to anyone who wanted it provided he accepted a wagon lot. That, again, is like dangling a carrot before a donkey's nose. How many farmers would be capable of purchasing a wagon lot? Even though it would be available in wagon lots at the nearest railway station at £26 per ton, I do not think anyone can buy it cheaper than 29/- or 29/6 per cwt. That is beyond the reach of the people who have suffered, and I suggest that the Minister should seriously consider, no matter what obstacles are in the way, making maize available at a very much cheaper rate than 29/6 per cwt. to farmers in an effort to save their cattle. It would be much better than allowing the conditions that operated in 1947 to arise, when cattle were allowed to die of starvation and the State had to step in and provide loans free of interest for their replacement. It would be much better to save the cattle rather than let them die. Therefore, I appeal to the Minister to have regard to the seriousness of the situation. My county may not be the worst hit, but it is at least indicative of the conditions all over the country. I again appeal to the Mininot to stand on ceremony, but to come to the aid of these farmers who have suffered.

I think I had better follow the Deputy's admirable example and read correspondence. I am relieved to notice that the last time the Deputy had to deal with this matter in the House he forecast a holocaust of cattle. Now his worst anticipation is a reduction of two ounces in the butter ration. I am glad I shall be able to raise his spirits even further. On the 9th November I wrote to the secretary of the Cavan County Committee of Agriculture as follows:—

"Dear Sir,

I have noted the terms of the resolution regarding fodder supplies adopted by your committee at their meeting on the 24th October last. The matter is one which has been engaging my close attention and I have already had the position thoroughly examined. This examination has revealed that considerable quantities of hay have been seriously damaged or lost in some counties, including Cavan, but these losses can, from the nutritional point of view, be replaced by other foods. Realising the gravity of the situation, particularly should the winter be abnormally severe, I have made provision to secure additional supplies of maize and other concentrates adequate to meet any deficiency that may occur in the fodder situation. I am also arranging for the provision by the Agricultural Credit Corporation, if required, of loans to farmers for the purchase of maize through the medium of their local co-operative societies. In addition, our entire domestic output of bran and pollard will be available for retail sale to farmers at reasonable prices. In the circumstances, I feel that no useful purpose would be served by calling a conference of delegates from committees of agriculture to discuss the problem.

The members of your committee and their officers can, of course, assist me materially to deal with any difficulties that may arise by taking every opportunity to urge farmers:—

(1) to utilise the potato crop to the best advantage for stock feeding by ensiling as large a part of it as possible, and

(2) to set aside one or more acres of grassland (if they have not already done so) on which to spread six to eight cwt. of phosphates and whatever lime and potash it may require now and one cwt. sulphate of ammonia or nitrate of soda at the end of January in order to have early grass into which they could let the cattle for an hour per day in next March and April.

I know how formidable will be the task confronting farmers, particularly those with a large number of cows, but I feel sure the committee will agree that effective remedial measures depend on everyone doing his part to substitute other foods for the hay that has been lost and to shorten the hungry months to the limit of his ability by intensive fertilisation of some part of his grassland as an emergency measure.

I feel I should mention another matter also. In existing conditions cattle are extremely likely to be attacked by diseases, such as fluke, stomach worms and hoove. There is, therefore, all the more need for farmers to dose their cattle in order to reduce, if not to prevent entirely, the incidence of these diseases.

I am aware that a rather panicky situation has developed amongst farmers in some areas and has led to the uneconomic disposal of a proportion of their cattle. The adoption of the measures I have outlined would enable them to hold their stock until such time as they can be disposed of at more remunerative prices."

I had, from the Cavan County Committee of Agriculture, on the 15th November, the following letter:—

"Dear Sir,

I am directed by the chairman of my committee (Mr. James O'Reilly) to acknowledge, with thanks, your letter dated the 9th instant. My chairman welcomes your statement that you have made provision to secure additional supplies of maize and other concentrates adequate to meet any deficiency that may occur in the fodder situation, and feels that this should get the widest possible publicity in order to allay the feeling of panic which has developed amongst some farmers. He would also be obliged if you would be so good as to let him have details of the credit facilities which you are arranging with the Agricultural Credit Corporation, so that this matter can get the widest possible publicity in the local Press through discussion at the next meeting of the committee, which is due to be held on the 5th prox.

My chairman also wishes me to assure you that the Cavan County Committee of Agriculture and their officials will do everything possible to assist you in this, or any other matter which may arise. In this connection, he has asked me to forward you, under separate cover, a copy of the issue of the Anglo-Celt for week ending the 11th instant, in which you will find on the leading article advice very similar to that outlined in your letter. He has asked me also to get in touch with the managers of this paper and request them to keep this matter constantly before their readers during the coming months.

You are, he feels assured, aware that through the efforts of this committee, the Killeshandra Co-Operative & Dairy Society have purchased a travelling steaming potato plant for the washing and boiling of potatoes for ensiling. He understands that this machine is fully booked out for the present season, and to date 120 tons of potatoes have been ensiled for 16 farmers.

Whilst my chairman feels that the efforts made in this direction are so far satisfactory, he is convinced that at least twenty of these machines would be required to cover adequately the present demand in County Cavan alone. He has directed me and the other officers of the committee to take every opportunity of getting co-operative societies, thresher owners, and farm machinery contractors interested in this business."

—to which I replied on the 16th November, as follows:—

"Dear Mr. Coghlan,

Thank you for your letter of the 15th November.

Please inform Mr. James O'Reilly that I welcome his interest in this matter and that I have asked Father Coyne and Dr. Kennedy to take the co-operative movement into consultation with a view to securing their help by grouping their societies for the purpose of meeting any urgent local need of credit which their members, or neighbours, may require, and have assured them that the Government will gladly cooperate with the co-operative movement in surmounting any local supply problems that may emerge.

I would be grateful if you would emphasise to all who express concern in regard to the supply position during the coming winter, that there are in the country at the present time ample supplies of cereal feeding stuffs to meet every conceivable demand that could be made upon them up to the month of February, and that taking demand on its present basis supplies are adequate to meet it up till near the end of April; and even assuming that demand were doubled, existing supplies would carry us into March; and there was no difficulty whatever in further supplementing them.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch with me at any time in the future when you think I can be of any help to you or the committee in resolving any local problem that may arise."

It is like the advice to eat cake.

I do not see why, Deputy. There is no supplier in rural Ireland, if he is within reach of a co-operative society—and remember that Deputy O'Reilly is mainly concerned for dairy farmers and cows and the milk supply—who need require his cattle to go short a single day this winter of ample supplies of the best fodder, because his creamery society can combine with 12, 15 or 20 other societies and jointly bind themselves to supply any supplier who is in need with whatever fodder he requires to carry his cattle safely through the winter and let him pay for it out of his monthly creamery cheque over any period which, in reason, the co-operative society, through the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, recommends.

How will he provide for the other goods which he requires for his household during the period of the repayment of these loans?

Out of the profits he makes out of the exceptionally remunerative markets at present available to the agricultural industry. The farmers of this country, thanks be to God, were never better off than they are to-day. The farmers of this country, and I am sure Deputy O'Reilly will agree with me, are not now, and never were, beggarmen—and so long as they are able to earn their living they do not want to live on anyone else. It is no reflection on any man to require credit facilities, provided he means to pay what is due. Nobody wants to ask him to pay in a fortnight what he consumed in six months. Nobody wants to ask him to undertake a burden of repayment which will cripple his domestic finances. Nobody wants to ask him to undertake any obligation which, in the judgment of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, would constitute an unreasonable burden on an honest and industrious man. But if any chancer or fraud or potential beggarman thinks that out of the trials of his neighbours he can perceive an opportunity for plundering the public purse, he never made a greater mistake in his life. The chancers may make up their minds that they will get nothing for nothing: but the hard-working farmers of Cavan, Leitrim, Mayo, Meath, Westmeath and every other county in Ireland may rest assured that no beast need want in Ireland throughout this winter because credit or fodder is available to anyone who is prepared to work and who intends to pay.

What provision is the Minister making for non-creamery areas?

In any area where a situation arises where an absolute scarcity fodder exists and an inability on the part of the farmers exists to acquire supplies, it will be my duty to see that that situation is relieved. The right thing to do is to avail of the local organisations that are there. If there is no creamery society there may be a parish council. If there is no parish council there may be some other body. I have no desire to constitute myself a Pooh Bah in every parish in this country. I feel confident that the agricultural community of this country will be able to provide the machinery to protect themselves, but if the chancers are hoping to get up my sleeve they may start going down now because they will never get up past my elbow.

The Dáil adjourned at 11 p.m. until 3 o'clock on Wednesday, 22nd November, 1950.