This is the first opportunity I have had of speaking about the Gaeltacht areas since the present Minister took office. What I have to say is in no way personal criticism of him. When the Gaeltacht Ministry was first established, it was during the period of the inter-Party Government. I was one of the few people at the time who opposed it very strongly. I remember certain criticisms of the man who was appointed Minister. I was not concerned with the holder of the post; I was concerned with the idea of setting up such a Ministry.
The fact is that the Ministry was set up and those of us who opposed it felt that once it was in operation, the area over which it had control was so small — and it has been proved to have dwindled within the past 30 years — that it would be possible for a Minister with a staff to deal with the problems that arose in the Gaeltacht areas. Therefore, it was a matter of amazement to me to find that one of the first acts of the present Minister was to shelve his responsibility — and "shelve" is the operative word—immediately on his appointment by the setting up of a board that will not be responsible to this House.
I want to make this clear: I am one of those people who all along have believed that, were it not for the fact that State and semi-State boards were operating in this country, we would be a lot worse off to-day than we are. As far as private enterprise was concerned, it was a complete waste of time to expect the greedy outlook of individuals motivated completely on a profit basis to supply the necessary expenditure and pumping of capital into industry to put this country on its feet. Consequently, to my mind, companies like the E.S.B., Bord na Móna and others were absolutely essential and have performed most useful work for the country and given employment at the same time.
However, over the years a number of people have found it necessary to criticise the operations of such boards and even the present Government and the previous Government, in replies to questions here, said they had been discussing and examining the possibility over the years of bringing these State and semi-State companies more under the control of the Oireachtas. That is the important aspect of my criticism.
The fault lies not with the board itself but with this House and the Ministers of the various Governments, that they have not seen their way to bring in the necessary legislation to enable the House to have house committees the same as they have in America and other democratic countries. These house committees would be composed of Deputies who had an interest in or knowledge of the work with which the board dealt. Instead of having the ordinary day-to-day matters of the working of the board trotted out in this House, they could be discussed by the committee of the House on a non-Party basis.
If it was felt that it was necessary to have a board under this Ministry of the Gaeltacht, I believe the Government had its first opportunity, starting off in the fresh, of setting up a board which would be subject from time to time to investigation and approval by a committee appointed by this House. We know that the Government and the Opposition have expressed themselves as being worried by the fact that State companies up to the present seem to have gone beyond the control of the House to a great extent. This is my first criticism and it is directed, unfortunately, at this board which is to deal with Gaeltacht matters. No matter what board is set up, I have to critisise it on the basis that it is a shelving and a taking away from the Minister and the House of certain responsibilities and opportunities of probing into its policy and expenditure.
Dealing generally with the position of the Gaeltacht, I should like to say briefly what I have said before, that the whole idea of tackling this problem of the Irish language — and that is what this Bill is designed for — is a matter of locking the stable door when the horse has gone. The puny effort to be made to restore what is no longer there is a tragic waste of money. I do not care what old fogies in this House and outside it have to say. I can see from the evidence of my own eyes what the position is and I am just as well able to judge what the state of the Irish language is as any group of cranks inside or outside this House, some of whom for self-interest are prepared to issue lectures and sermons to all and sundry that one is not an Irishman unless one is prepared to accept their views on the Irish language. To my mind, it is a crowd of cranks like that who have destroyed the chances of the Irish language.
Let us look at the Gaeltacht. This board is to be set up to deal with the question of industries. The idea of these industries is primarily to give employment to those who speak Irish. What is the position? What is the size of the Gaeltacht? Who lives in the Gaeltacht? I wonder did the Minister take a trip within the past few months through Connemara? I wonder, before he brought in this measure, did he make an investigation into (1) who owns the best house property in Connemara at the present time, (2) who owns and controls almost 90 per cent. of the fishing and shooting rights in Connemara and (3) who owns the best hotels in that locality. We find that the propertied classes who control the economic interests in the so-called Gaeltacht areas can no longer be described as natives, if that is the correct word to use. They are all imports; many are non-nationals. They are the people who are in control in those areas. If anybody in this House wants to have a day's fishing or shooting in the West of Ireland, he must go to an agent of these people, sent here from London or some other part of Britain, and the locals will be employed as gillies. They are to wait upon the honoured gentlemen who come from abroad.
What is happening to our native boys and girls? Galway City is the depot for young girls aged 14 to 18 in Connemara. They come to the Central Hospital as maids, or to the housewives in town as nurse-maids or helpers. When they come to the city, their knowledge of English is limited, but, within six months, they have brushed up their English until it is far better than that of some of the people who employ them. Their first move then is to the train at Galway station to go across to Manchester and Liverpool. Their sole aim is to make themselves so efficient in the English language that they can get out and get a living.
Some people may ask why is that. Deputy O'Donnell put his finger on part of the trouble — a body like this being set up, bringing in crack-pot solutions like the setting up of toy factories. I do not agree with Deputy O'Donnell in regard to the rate of wages paid. Those girls have to cycle seven or eight miles to their work and home again, and they never get what is described as a living wage. The attitude is: "The Government is doing this for you; you should be thankful to stay at home and cycle seven or eight miles, be it wet or dry."
We have another aspect as announced by Deputy Lindsay, former Minister for the Gaeltacht. I hold no brief for Deputy Lindsay, but I am going to acknowledge that he never came into this House, after leaving that appointment, to tell lies about things. My real criticism about Deputy Lindsay is that he did not root out the trouble in the Department while he was there. He waited until the end of his term of office before taking steps to clear up certain aspects. I do not think the words "clear up" are right. The trouble was made worse by the return of certain individuals. We have established beyond doubt that girls working for this Department, under the Minister, could not get what I describe as a living wage until they were 21 years of age, no matter what their output was. If they worked 24 hours a day, they could not make a living wage because their age was against them. At the same time, they were able to make quite good money in England from the age of 17 years upwards. I do not suggest their wages should be put on the same basis as those in England, but we cannot have this kind of paternal employment and a drumming into these people that if they do not work at this rate, the Government will close down the concern involved.
At the same time, we have the position that those who acted as agents for the sale of goods produced in these areas are known to have reaped vast profits in the shape of bonuses for their sales. That has not been denied. There is no justification, where sales are concerned, for any individual being able to make £4,000 to £6,000 a year on bonuses as a result of sales, when the people who produce that commodity are getting the lowest wages possible. I do not think the sales ability of any individual should entitle him to such money in comparison with what is paid to those who produce the commodity. People do not agree with Deputy Giles on many things, but I know personally many of the people, through my contacts in the West of Ireland, who have been associated with the Irish revival movement. I do not intend to use the House for the purpose of making an unwarranted attack on anyone, but I am going to suggest to this board, and put it bluntly, that I will take the shirt off some individuals if I find the people I suspect are put on it. I am glad Deputy Geoghegan spoke and warned about the people who should be picked to form that board. Let me say that other people are taking an interest in the composition of the board.
One thing which struck me as peculiar was that yesterday we had a Bill to, continue and extend the working of the Undeveloped Areas Act and, an hour afterwards, this measure dealing with Gaeltacht Services was introduced to deal with a small portion of the larger area covered under the Undeveloped Areas Act. Is it not extraordinary that it is found necessary to appoint a Minister for an infinitesimal portion of the undeveloped areas? A Minister is necessary for that, but no Minister is necessary for the undeveloped areas as a whole. The Gaeltacht is only a very minute portion of the undeveloped and congested areas. The congested areas extend right up to the Shannon. There is no worse poverty, there is no worse congestion as far as housing is concerned, and there are no smaller holdings than in areas near the Shannon, and in Roscommon and Galway, that are completely away from the so-called Gaeltacht areas, but there is nothing for them. Why is that? Because a few crack-pots in this House want to preserve the "Indian reservations" to keep these people in a position that we can go down and look at them once a year on holidays, admire them, and say that they are what is left of ancient Irish culture.
I have been for years pointing out the means for preserving and building up the economic life of these areas. They are (1) fishing, (2) forestry and (3) a land distribution programme. Those three items are in their infancy, but we hear all sorts of talk about starting some industries. Will anybody here tell me what industries can be based on the raw materials in the Gaeltacht, the poorest part of Ireland? What minerals have we there? We do have sheep there. What do we find? We find that, as far as our wool is concerned, we export the wool and then we import an equal amount, so the one cancels out the other. Our importation of wool is as great as our exportation of wool.
What else have we? Have we the raw material for making the toys? The raw materials we should concentrate on are in the sea — the fishing industry —and in the soil, which is suited to afforestation and which, year after year, has been brought to the notice of the Governments in office.
Side by side with the afforestation programme, there is the necessary land distribution programme in areas where land is available. Yesterday, at Question Time, I asked two questions. The first was in connection with the acquisition of the Rockingham estate, Boyle, which contains over 1,200 acres of the finest arable land. The second question concerned the acquisition of Oak Park estate, County Carlow. I mentioned these two estates because the public knew about them. I have been asking questions here for years about hundreds of farms which would and should have been transferred to people from the congested and Gaeltacht areas. Take, for instance, these two farms. Their combined acreage comes to about 2,000 acres and, if divided amongst 20 families, it would mean 50 acres per family. Consider the value of 50 acres of arable land to-day and compare it with what the Land Commission have been doing since 1931 when the average holding given to an individual has been 21 ½ acres. I maintain that some of the actions by Government Departments to solve Gaeltacht and congested areas problems have done more harm than good.
I suppose that this thing will go on in this House year after year. Hopes will be expressed by Deputies from the Gaeltacht areas. As individuals, I find that they are all decent men, but they are up against the pressure that will be brought to bear on them by people in the Gaeltacht areas whose attitude is: "We have the language as a bargaining point. We will use it as long as we can." I cannot blame them one bit because the demoralising influence started from this House with the hand-out, as such, for the language. A hand-out, as such, at any time has a demoralising effect. It would be far better to fix up these people in Connemara with constant work and security of employment.
One day I was in Connemara. I spoke to a number of people on the advantages of afforestation. One man gave me what I thought was a pretty fair description of the attitude of some people. He said: "What good is forestry to us? What good are trees to us? Why do you not get us an increase in the ‘Dole'? That would be much better for us at the present time." What are we to think of that frame of mind? I would point out that that man was not a supporter of mine. He was a supporter of a Party in this House but he was fed up with that Party. His hope was that whatever new Party would come would promise him and his like more of the types of inducements which they desire by way of increased social welfare allowances, and so on. When one considers that type of mentality, it is very difficult to know what to do. Those people bring pressure to bear on their local Deputies and, in turn, the local Deputies bring pressure to bear on the Departments. When you have crackpots in various Ministries and when you have people who think they will revive the language, the position then is that these people think the Deputies are as keen on the language themselves. The trouble is that they are living in cloud-cuckoo land.
On the one hand, I am completely opposed to the idea of the Ministry. Then, on the other hand, I consider that it is adding insult to injury at the present time to set about taking away the power vested in the Minister for the Gaeltacht and handing it over to a board — a board of which we know nothing of the individuals who will compose it, a board which we have to take on trust, a board that will not be responsible in any way even to a subcommittee of this House, a subcommittee which would be appointed on non-Party lines, and a board in respect of which we must hope that, after a period of five years, it will be possible to say that some concrete progress has been achieved. Is that not the type of thing we have had already?
Would it not be better if we could fill a man's belly for 12 months and enable him to keep and rear his family by providing him with secure employment? Is that not more likely to keep him at home than to have a position whereby a man gets three months' work a year and must then go abroad for the remainder of the year to find work, as has been the case for the past 15 or 20 years? You will not, with a measure like this, be able to give 12 months' employment to a sufficient number of people in the Gaeltacht areas to stem the tide or to stop the rot. The problem will have to be faced on a broader issue.
The Government should be willing to face the problem on the basis of a Ministry that will embrace the entire Gaeltacht and congested areas, over to the Shannon, up to the very tip of Donegal, down to Cork and over as far as Waterford. Until all that area, whether Irish-speaking or not, is treated as an undeveloped area and becomes entitled to Government help, we are wasting time and money because we are only nibbling at the problem. The Ministry I envisage would be charged with the responsibility of dealing with that entire area on the basis of co-ordinating the Land Commission, the Forestry Division and the Fisheries Branch. If necessary, three boards could be set up which would be responsible to this House. The co-ordination of these boards could be left in the hands, if necessary, of what we can describe now as the Minister for the Gaeltacht. One of these boards should be able to deal with the matters in the Gaeltacht areas under the broader aspect of the congested areas. It is shocking to find that the Minister is appointed for a part of the whole — the Minister for a little part of the western seaboard— leaving the entire expanse of congested areas without a Minister and without any plan. As it stands, the co-ordination we all expected is now farther away with this special concentration of a new board's work within the so-called Gaeltacht area. I could not be more critical.
Having said all that, the only thing I can say in courtesy, which is necessary, and in view of the fact that the Minister is from the West, is that I only hope that, in spite of all the difficulties—which he knows—he will be able to get some good out of this measure. I should like to see him, as a West of Ireland man, in a position to do something. I am afraid, however, he will be able to do very little. I am afraid that those who have always aid, no matter where the Minister came from—whether from the West or otherwise—that nothing could be done, will be proved right, so far as this measure is concerned. For that reason, I am sorry for the Minister, starting off in his first appointment. He will never reach the position of Taoiseach as a result of his efforts in this Department.