That a sum not exceeding £19,620 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1957, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of the Taoiseach (No. 16 of 1924; No. 40 of 1937; No. 38 of 1938; and No. 24 of 1947).
The current economic position has been debated on a number of occasions this year, notably in the debates on the Vote on Account, on the Budget and Finance Bill, and will be further reviewed in the debate on the statement made by the Minister for Finance to-day. The recently published statistical survey and the Minister's statement contain all the facts and figures required for an understanding of the present economic position. I do not propose, therefore, to dwell at any length on the background to the economic difficulties with which we are confronted. The broad outline is clear.
We are faced with a number of formidable problems—large-scale and persistent emigration, substantial unemployment and a serious deficit in the balance of payments. Any one of these problems would be formidable by itself; taken together, they are both a warning and a challenge to the country. Few other countries indeed are faced with such a trinity of problems; if they face deficits in the balance of payments, this is often the result of full employment, or where, exceptionally, this is not the case, it is rarely found that high unemployment and large-scale emigration go hand in hand; where they do, the balance of payments may not be in serious deficit. It is the somewhat unique combination of the problems in this country which constitutes our difficulty.
In acknowledging our difficulties, however, we must steer clear of two dangers—the danger, on the one hand, that we may overstate the problem and cause panic and despair at home and a lack of confidence abroad; and, on the other hand, the danger that we may understate the problem and create apathy and indifference at home and, abroad, the impression that we fail to appreciate the seriousness of the position or else refuse to take the necessary corrective measures. We have, therefore, taken a balanced view.
It is, perhaps, emigration which constitutes our greatest challenge. Of all the statistical material that has been placed before us in recent months, none has struck the minds of public representatives and the whole people with so sharp an impact as that contained in the Preliminary Report of the Census of Population which was taken in April of this year. The statistics of population contained in that report are provisional and subject to amendment; but there is no reason to anticipate that the final figures will differ materially from them, and there is no doubt that the picture which they present—a gravely disturbing picture— is an accurate representation of the facts.
The population enumerated in April last, 2,894,822, is the lowest ever recorded for the Twenty-Six Counties. After a period of stability extending certainly over 25 years, if not indeed over 40 years—with, in fact, a slight increase in the inter-censal period 1946 to 1951—we are now faced with a substantial decline. The reduction amounts in all to 65,771, and it has occurred in every province. It is true that the decrease in Leinster is negligible, but in the previous three censuses increases were recorded in that province.
The natural increase in the population of the Twenty-Six Counties in the five-year period was 134,623, and, adding this figure to the net decline of 65,771, we find that net emigration in the five years 1951 to 1956 amounted to no less than 200,000 persons, or an average of 40,000 a year—a figure very much greater than in any previous period since the beginning of this century.
This disturbing increase in the annual rate of net emigration must be looked at in the light of the facts that, comparing 1955 with 1951, in real terms —that is, allowing for changes in the value of money—national income has increased by one-twelfth—earnings in both the agricultural and non-agricultural sectors showing increases— while the capital expenditure financed from the Exchequer has, over the five years, amounted to a total of £160,000,000 and conditions in respect of housing, social welfare and health services have substantially improved.
What inferences are to be drawn from those facts? What should be our attitude towards the picture which they present, and what policies should we pursue to deal with the situation with which we are confronted? These are questions for the Government, indeed, but not for the Government, alone. They are of vital concern to us all, to this House, to every political Party, to the people as a whole and to every family and individual in the country.
We have had reports—a majority report, with a number of reservations and addenda, and two minority reports —from a representative commission established in 1948 to examine emigration and other population problems. It has been stated that those reports contained a "blue print" for action to solve the emigration problem, and it has been suggested that there has been some failure or neglect on the part of the Government to adopt remedies that are ready to hand, that are to be found merely by perusal of the commission's findings and recommendations.
Let me say at once that the reports of the Commission on Emigration and Other Population Problems are documents of the very greatest value. They examine, with meticulous care and with a wealth of statistical detail, the economic and social background, the nature and history of our demographic problems, the various factors that enter into those problems and the considerations that should guide us in our approach to their solution. But I do not think that the commission as a whole, or any member of it, would endorse the suggestion that their reports contain a "blue print" or that they offer any cut-and-dried solutions. They were not designed and do not purport to do anything of the kind. They contain, indeed, a number of suggestions and recommendations on matters of varying degrees of importance, but they do not offer a programme of specific action by the public authorities that would promise an early and substantial reduction in emigration or the beginning of a rising trend in population. The recommendations and suggestions have been examined by all the Departments of State and are at present being given careful consideration by the Government in the light of the departmental observations.
It would not be possible for me, within the limits of this speech, to attempt to summarise the views and findings of the commission. Indeed, that body was itself debarred by the evident difficulties, from making any such attempt. The majority report states (paragraph 481):
"In the course of our inquiries over a wide field we have had to consider so many complex matters that it would be unsatisfactory and inadequate to attempt to set our conclusions in summary form and thereby weaken their significance by divorcing them from their text."
There are, however, a few passages in the majority report to which I would like to make particular reference, because I feel that they are specially helpful to an appreciation of the broad character of the problem of emigration. In paragraph 290, the report points out that "While the fundamental cause of emigration is economic, in most cases the decision to emigrate cannot be ascribed to any single motive but to the interplay of a number of motives," and adds that "The causes put before us in evidence were very many—principally economic, but also social, political, cultural and psychological."
The general conclusion reached in the chapter dealing with economic development is one which, I feel, should be quoted in full. It is contained in paragraph 423 and is as follows:—
"With maximum development of agriculture, with industry providing as much as possible of the requirements of the home market and with energetic development of export trade in industrial products, additional employment should result, without which the amelioration of our main demographic weaknesses and economic problems will not be possible. Such development is essentially a long-term policy. Immediate results cannot be expected, as is evident in the case of afforestation and fisheries. A quicker response may be obtained from agriculture but social tradition and habit may delay the full results. Since the policy is long-term it follows that it should be framed so that emphasis is placed on those objectives which can be most easily attained. The case for giving a high place in the order of priorities to agriculture rests on the fact that, by encouraging agriculture, use is made of physical attributes which give the country a natural advantage in competition with other countries; exports to pay for additional imports required for industrial and other development are increased; under-employment and unemployment on the land are reduced, and the income of the agricultural community is raised, thereby providing a larger home market for industrial products, greater possibility of extending commercial and ancillary services and additional savings for investment. It should be pointed out, however, that there is a tendency in developed countries for the agriculturally-occupied population to decline in numbers. Agricultural development, therefore, is unlikely to bring about a substantial increase in the size of the agricultural community. Hence it is mainly expansion in industry and services which will provide the additional employment without a reduction in living standards. The volume of this employment will depend on the extent to which greater agricultural prosperity can provide a wider market for industrial products at home, on the ability of industry to meet home-market demand and on the possibility of developing exports. Development, agricultural and industrial, and the rising standard of living which the population seeks, call for a programme of large-scale and long-term investment which far exceeds the present volume of domestic savings. The commission believes that, within the capacity of the country and its population, there is scope for such an expansion in production as would make a major contribution to solving our demographic and economic problems. In the final analysis, however, the solution of these problems depends on the tenacity of the community's resolution to solve them and on the amount of effort it is willing to put forth in this endeavour."
In a passage dealing with the role of the Government in population policy (paragraph 470) the majority report has this to say:—
"We do not recommend, in present circumstances, direct Government action in the demographic field, such as the banning or limitation of emigration, the imposition of a tax on bachelors or the provision of marriage loans and grants. Almost all the influences which determine population growth are matters which properly depend upon personal decisions, and with regard to them, the rôle of the Government should be to encourage and, where necessary, to initiate economic and social activities which produce conditions favourable to increased population, leaving people free to take their decisions in the light of these conditions. But, however potent the influence which social and economic factors may have on population trends, the personal reaction of the individual to these forces must be allowed for as well."
Perhaps the most significant passage in the entire report is that contained in paragraph 480, where it is pointed out that "economic development does not depend on capital alone" but "depends also on hard work, skill, thrift, and the willingness to take risks" and that "there can be no significant progress in development unless people accept the effort and sacrifice involved in more and better work and in increased savings on a scale for which there is no precedent in this country". The paragraph goes on to state:—
"In short, it is not financial measures but the will and determination of the people which will decide the extent to which development of national resources will take place so as to remedy the country's demographic weaknesses. To achieve the ends which we have set out, there must be a revolution in the attitude of the individual. Development is a necessary prerequisite for the solution of our population problems, but in our view it is not enough. Fundamentally, the question is not one of economics but of self-reliance. In other countries faced with more critical situations than ours, there have been outstanding achievements in reconstruction and development. The bringing about of similar achievements in this country is the problem facing the Irish people. To solve it, the mind and spirit of the people must change so that they possess the necessary degree of resolution not only to develop the economy fully but also to accept readily the sacrifices and hard work which this would involve."
If, in my references and quotations, I have confined myself to the text of the majority report, it is not because of any lack of appreciation on my part, or on the part of my colleagues in the Government, of the value of the various addenda and reservations to that report or of the minority reports. It does not appear, indeed, that any member of the commission would find himself at variance with the views of the majority report on the points to which I have drawn particular attention.
It is significant that the commission have so repeatedly emphasised the importance, in dealing with the problem of emigration, of the attitude taken by the community towards that problem. Time and again the commission have drawn attention to the personal, as distinct from the social and economic, factors which influence the decision to emigrate and have emphasised the effort, sacrifice, resolution and determination required of the community if our demographic and economic problems are to be solved.
It is against this background that we must consider the opinions expressed by the commission that the fundamental cause of emigration is economic, that the rôle of the Government should be to encourage and, where necessary, to initiate economic and social activities which produce conditions favourable to increased population and that economic development is essentially a matter of long-term policy, from which immediate results cannot be expected. Such a long-term policy has been pursued by successive Governments and has been, is being and will continue to be pursued, with the utmost vigour, by the present Government.
There have, from time to time, been differences of emphasis and, on certain occasions, there has, in my opinion, been action based on an incorrect appreciation of the circumstances and the needs of the situation, but broadly, there has been continuity in the efforts to develop the national resources, to raise the general level of production, to create diversified opportunities of employment at home and to improve progressively the living conditions of the people. Those efforts have not yet been as fruitful in their results as we all desire, but they have met with a substantial degree of success, particularly in the development of manufacturing industry and in the general improvement of the living conditions of the people as a whole. They are being continued with unremitting energy, of which a notable example is the patient work of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Deputy Norton, in promoting the establishment here of an oil refinery, with the successful result that was recently announced.
In agriculture, the vital source and fundamental basis of whatever prosperity we have so far achieved or are, in future, likely to enjoy, much has been done by Government action to create conditions and opportunities favourable to improvement and expansion. A great deal of progress has been made in restoring the fertility of the soil, land reclamation has proceeded and is proceeding on a scale which, relatively to this country's size and resources, may, not inaptly, be termed vast, improved veterinary services are reducing mortality and the incidence of disease in animals, an expanding advisory service is affording ready access, on the part of the farmers, to the best information and counsel on modern, efficient agricultural methods, large schemes of arterial drainage are in progress, the prices of important basic products are assured, and valuable benefits of various kinds are provided out of the public purse to lighten the burdens of the farmer and to encourage him to increase his output. It is to agriculture, primarily, we must look for that essential prerequisite of economic progress in our circumstances, an expanding volume of production of goods that are marketable abroad in quality and at prices competitive with similar goods offered by the producers of other countries.
As I say, much has been achieved. The Government have played and are playing the rôle which, in the view of the Commission on Emigration and Other Population Problems, is their proper one, that is, "to encourage and, where necessary, to initiate economic and social activities which produce conditions favourable to increased population." Not only has large-scale emigration continued, however, but its volume has shown a substantial growth.
If we accept the commission's view that "the fundamental cause of emigration is economic," we must also remember that standards of economic welfare are relative, not absolute. The young men and women who are leaving Ireland to seek a living abroad are not, as a body, fleeing from intolerable economic conditions at home: they are seeking what they have come to believe are better economic conditions abroad. And a fact to be faced and reckoned with is that the average standard of material welfare—in the things that enter into the computation of national income figures—is nearly twice as high in Britain as it is in Ireland.
We cannot hope to overtake the British standard in that respect, because we do not possess, on anything resembling a comparable scale, the natural resources, the accumulated physical capital or the industrial structure—the product of many generations of work under favourable conditions—that exist in Britain. We are endeavouring—and we have already made substantial progress as a result of our endeavours—to promote conditions in which every man, woman and child in this country will have the opportunity of living in decent comfort. But if any informed man promises to lead our people to an average standard of access to material goods equal to the average standard in Britain, he is making a promise which he must know to be false.
There are, however, other values. Many of those who emigrate have, before emigrating, enjoyed the wholesome conditions of a life that is nowhere far removed from the happy peace of natural surroundings. We have here certain spiritual and cultural traditions which have become our own and in which we may justly take pride. We have the fellowship of family and friends and neighbours—the warmth and kindliness of home. There is much truth in the statement made, with emphasis, in paragraph 453 of the commission's report, that "the paramount consideration must be the philosophy of life, the system of ultimate ethical principles and values which the people of this country hold".
Young men and women should not lightly shake the dust of their homeland from their feet. The plea of economic necessity is, in many cases, one that cannot be sustained. Only too frequently do we hear of men and women leaving good jobs in this country for apparently better ones in England. They should weigh the attraction of higher monetary rewards in other lands against comforts and happiness—real and substantial, if not measurable in money—that are theirs to enjoy at home.
This is not to say that we see Ireland as a backwater, a haven of old-world quiet ways. We are in this highly-competitive world of to-day which is dominated by striking technical advances, by the emergence of new industrial countries and the reappearance of old ones. These and other developments will call for our utmost endeavour; I do not exaggerate when I say that our very existence may well depend on how we face the problems which they present.
It would be misleading to refer to emigration without mentioning one aspect which is perhaps not always taken into consideration. It is to emigration that we owe the spiritual empire which is our pride and strength, which has raised our status from that of a small island on the Atlantic seaboard to that of a mother country claiming allegiance from very many millions of her sons in all parts of the earth and which, on the material plane, has given us an influence which we could not hope to achieve otherwise.
But, if not all emigration is bad, the waters of the well-spring must not be allowed to dwindle. It must be the aim of all of us to ensure that never again will an Irish census reveal a declining population.
In our present difficulties we are entitled to draw solace from our achievements of the past. Responsibility for the government of our own affairs now goes back some 35 years, and it is worth asking the question how well have we discharged ourselves in the task. During that period government has been shared between the Parties represented in this House. For the first ten years of the State, the Party to which I belong provided the Government, over a period of nearly 20 years the present Opposition Party governed, and for over five years the country has had government of the present cooperative character, inter-Party or Coalition, or whatever you care to call it. Whatever there is of good or ill in modern Ireland is therefore the responsibility of us all.
It is, unfortunately, a fact, which we must face, that in some circles it has become a practice to use the term Party politician in a depreciatory, if not in an abusive sense. The term is most frequently used in this sense by those who, with grave lack of responsibility, make judgments on matters on which they are insufficiently informed and of which they have no practical experience. Those attacks on the Party politician derive from the absence of a long tradition of self-government and an appreciation of its practices, from the aftermath of national revolution and civil war, from the corrosive effects of criticism by groups who disliked and despised Ireland's achievement of self-government, and from an insufficient appreciation of how the Party system works. I wish to-night, in this House, to say something in defence of the profession of politics and in defence of this House, too, which, with such a striking lack of patriotism, those critics impugn.
We are here perfectly well aware that, in all Parties in this House, there are men who have rendered signal service to this country, to which they have devoted their lives. I hope that it is not part of the claim of any Party that it has the monopoly of patriotism. I think I will have the support of all Parties in saying that the criticism of each other—in which we mutually engage on the issues which arise—does not involve the suggestion of anything dishonourable or unworthy of our opponents.
It is part of the business of democratic government that we hit hard and emphasise the arguments for and against particular policies so that, by having the alternatives placed clearly before them, the people may be enabled to exercise their choice of replacing one group by its opponents. The system has worked so well with us that though we started amid civil war we have now reached the happy state in which we are all united in defence of one Constitution, that in 35 years such stability has emerged that there have been only three Prime Ministers, and this during some of the most critical decades of the world's history.
We have groups of Parties all now experienced in government, guaranteeing conditions of critical discussion and the maintenance of freedom, groups from which alternative Governments can be selected by the people. Those who complain that there is insufficient disagreement amongst the Parties seem to suggest that the State was healthier when disagreement was such that it could only be expressed in violence, and to imply that a society is the healthier the deeper the divisions which divide it.
When I was first elected to this House I was proud to be the elected representative of my country, proud to serve in the National Parliament which was the goal and inspiration of earlier generations. I know that my pride was, and is, shared by every other Deputy. We must be vigilant, however, lest careless and misinformed criticism injures the prestige and lowers the esteem of the democratic institutions which we have fought for and which we have worked so successfully.
We face the future, therefore, fortified by the possession of these democratic institutions and by the knowledge of our achievements in the past. To those who see nothing but the black side, who minimise past achievements and maximise present problems, I would repeat—because I think that in present circumstances it bears repetition—what I said during the debate on the Budget on the 17th May, 1956. In Volume 157, No. 5, column 657 of the Dáil Debates, I said:—
"I do not think we should forget what has been achieved. I am not going to enter into any discussion as to whether it was this Government, the last inter-Party Government or any Fianna Fáil Government that achieved it. The country is entitled to be proud of the achievements which have been made and not to be discouraged by the difficulties which face it now and by the fact that we cannot get everywhere at once."
I then proceeded to quote from the Pope's Easter Message, in which he expressed his disapproval:—
"...of those who see what is still lacking, what has not yet been fully achieved, and readily lend an ear to the whisperings of those sowing discontent. They close their eyes to much already accomplished in the enrichment of the social and economic order, which they, too, profit by, advantages frequently obtained through exhausting labour to overcome unsurmountable obstacles."
The record of the past is impressive, not least when assessed against a background of civil disturbances, economic difficulties, a world war and its aftermath. It is a record to which all Irish Governments have contributed and in which all Irish Governments can take pride.
In the last 35 years we have trebled our industrial production and have increased industrial employment by over 100,000. We have increased manifold the production of electricity and of machine-won turf, have planted over 200,000 acres of forest, and have established and extended mercantile and air fleets. We have transformed the face of the Irish countryside by imaginative schemes, boldly executed —including rural electrification, arterial drainage, land rehabilitation, elimination of bovine T.B., farm buildings' scheme, etc. We have built or reconstructed over 275,000 houses, 2,500 primary schools and 150 hospitals. We have introduced Social Welfare legislation to provide for the widow, the orphan, the blind, and the family and have made available general and specialist medical services to wide sections of the community.
These considerable results do not exhaust all the achievements of the past. If they have not succeeded in solving our difficulties, we are, I submit, entitled to face the future, not indeed with complacency, but with confidence based on these achievements. It is with justifiable confidence therefore, that we face the trinity of problems to which I have already referred —a serious Balance of Payments deficit, far too much unemployment and continuing large-scale emigration.
We must continue to develop, to the best of our ability, the resources which we possess and to emulate other peoples in work and thrift, in the expansion of economic activity and in the raising of the standard of material well-being. The Government will continue to promote and put into effect their long-term policy of developing the national resources, raising the general level of production, creating diversified opportunities of employment at home and improving progressively the living conditions of the people which, when we have overcome our present difficulties, will make possible the easement, if not the solution, of our problems.