In the debate on the Estimate for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs this year I suggested that the correct name for that Department was not the Department of Posts and Telegraphs. I was glad that the Minister when he was replying said the Government had decided to change it to the Department of Posts and Telecommunications. We have had an announcement from the new Taoiseach that he is putting together the Departments of Posts and Telegraphs and Transport and Power. I should be glad to know what high-sounding title the Minister will now have. It will certainly be very lengthy. The Minister will have more letters after his name than anyone in this House.
Over the past few years, we have been blowing hot and cold about what has been happening in the Common Market. We had statements made that we were applying for membership. Then we were told that things were difficult, then that it appeared as if we were not going to be accepted. Then we were told Britain would not be accepted and then we had the brilliant showing of the former Taoiseach who announced to all the world that we would go it alone. Normally the former Taoiseach did not talk through his hat: if he told us something that was not correct, he did so for a very good reason. To suggest at that time that if Britain was not accepted, we would go in alone, in face of the fact that 75 per cent of our exports were to Britain, was too ridiculous for words.
Our application was not accepted and then the former Taoiseach said we would not pursue our claim until the whole question of membership of the Common Market was reviewed. Then we had the announcement that a number of our Ministers would go to Brussels. That seemed to suggest that we were re-activating our application for membership of the Common Market. It certainly was not suggested that they were going to Brussels for the good of their health because Brussels is not the type of place to go to for that reason.
The question arose of whether we were to look for full membership. It was raised in the House time and time again and on each occasion the Taoiseach insisted we would not be content with anything less than full membership. More than 12 months ago, I happened to be with a group from this House and from outside who went to Brussels and afterwards to Cannes to have a look at close quarters at our prospects of getting into the Common Market and its effect on us. I do not know what impression it left on anybody else but I was perfectly satisfied, and I made it quite clear to my Party, that as far as the EEC is concerned, to use a phrase first used by the late Deputy Bill Norton, entry of Ireland into the Common Market would be an excruciating experience for the Irish nation.
If we go in there, we shall certainly have a fight on our hands. The day of the big cartel seems to be coming as far as the EEC is concerned. They have no use for anything else. They told us unashamedly that small farmers, small industries could not exist, but they told us that there was no unemployment as far as the EEC was concerned. When we queried that matter, they said it meant that if people were unemployed here, there would always be jobs for them in Brussels, Berlin or Paris.
One matter on which people sometimes disagree with me is that nationalism seems to be a dirty word as far as the EEC is concerned. Nationalist ideals do not fit into the picture. I suppose we can understand that when we remember that France and Germany have attacked each other twice during the past half century and that under a common flag, there is less danger of a conflagration again. However, for a country like this which for 700 years fought to have a flag under which to operate, it seems ridiculous to suggest we should call ourselves Europeans in future and no longer think of ourselves as just Irishmen.
There has been hubbub this afternoon because Mr. Wilson announced in the British Commons that Britain is going into the Common Market and, further, that discussions were taking place with the Irish Government. I have not seen the text of his speech and therefore do not know what Mr. Wilson said. I assume his speech was simply a statement of intent, that Britain intends to go into the Common Market. If that is so, Britain is no nearer being in the Common Market than three years ago. Whether discussions with this country have taken place and, if so, whether there is any significance in them, I do not know. If we begin to talk with Britain again on a trade agreement, I hope we shall make a better job of it than we did 12 months ago when Government Ministers went to Britain to negotiate the Free Trade Agreement and came back before Christmas like Santa Claus with bags full of nothing. They came to the House later and spoke of the wonderful bargain they had struck.
The farmers have since found out what kind of bargain was struck. At that time, the Labour Party said a mistake had been made and I wish to repeat that statement now. I do not say it happened because Fianna Fáil Ministers wanted to sell out this country, as somebody has stupidly said, but because they were not able to negotiate with a group of horse traders which the British always have been and which they brag about. The Government did not succeed in getting the better of the bargaining. After all the talk of the £10 million, the £5 per head on cattle, by the Minister for Agriculture last January, the Irish farmers are accepting £20 less per head.
Neither have we gained anything on the industrial side. During the past few weeks, it has been very noticeable, particularly in relation to drapery goods, that if anybody goes into a shop, he finds garments made in Britain first of all. Of course many women will be very glad of the selection of British goods in the drapery shops. It means they will not have to go to Belfast to smuggle them across the Border or run the risk after disembarking from an Aer Lingus plane of being humiliated at Dublin Airport. The point is that as well as having losses on the agricultural side, we are also losing on the industrial side. We are finding that the Union Jack rather than the harp and shamrock is the sign on garments now being sold here.
The Free Trade Agreement stipulated that as from 1st July no longer will it be necessary for local authorities to stipulate to anybody building houses that Irish materials only will be used. From now on, it may be Irish or British. For the life of me, at one time, I could not see an Irish Government accepting that situation. However, they have accepted it and the House accepted it, the only objectors being the people on these benches who were outvoted by the others. After all these months, matters have not improved and, coming towards the end of another year, the country is in a worse position than it was 12 months ago. The number of people employed has again dropped considerably and, despite the deliberate attempt of the Department of Social Welfare to cook the books by altering by 16,000 the list of statistics showing unemployment, there are still more than 42,000 unemployed, if we take the figure for Saturday of last week. It brings us very near to a figure of 60,000 unemployed people at this time of the year. At the same time, the drain of emigration is worse than ever and the numbers leaving agriculture have increased.
Deputy Corish put the position clearly when he said that not alone are the farmers finding it extremely difficult to exist but those who are expecting to obtain employment and those living on small farms and working as hired farm labourers for about £9 per week, are finding it very difficult to live. This is evidenced by the numbers leaving agriculture. Two years ago, 10,000 people left the land; the year before last 12,000 left and last year 14,000 left. What will the figure be for this year? Do the Government know or are they completely out of touch with the situation in the country today?
I have heard speeches made by certain Government Ministers. I have heard explanations of extraordinary things being given by Fianna Fáil spokesmen at local level. One thing which has struck me again and again is that the explanations given by the people at local level who try to interpret Government policy and Government action are miles from the truth. They just do not know. I believe it is only a matter of time until the ordinary people of the country and the Fianna Fáil supporters—many of them are decent people who have been supporting Fianna Fáil down through the years—realise they have been made damn fools of and that they have not been told the truth When that time comes, God help Fianna Fáil.
We had a discussion the other day about the Department of the Minister for Transport and Power and about what was happening at local level. The Minister gave an assurance—I am sure he will see it is carried out— that all houses wired will be connected within the next six months. It is rather extraordinary to find, as I do in my post every day, letters from people who have applied for the ESB service who receive from the ESB a letter stating that because of financial stringency, they are unable to give them the service in the ordinary way. They explain that the service charge will be so much for two months, that it will be anything from 2/- up to £2. They will also have to pay a sum of money ranging from £37 up to £452 to carry out the work of connection. Most of those people have written to the ESB and asked if it was a loan which the ESB were asking them for, and if so, when it would be repaid. The reply has come back from the ESB stating they will be unable to pay back the loan until the financial position improves.
This is bad enough but it is much worse when we consider that last year the ESB floated a loan for £6 million which was oversubscribed in a very short time. The Government, following that, borrowed £5 million from the ESB. I understand they have repaid £2½ million and still retain £2½ million which really belong to the ESB and which, according to the ESB is required for their services. The Government have that money but they still expect the people who want service (a) to pay for the service in hard cash and (b) to pay the ESB the money which they will collect and use to repay the amount which has been borrowed from some of those people. You can now add to this the fact that, as was stated earlier, the Government attempted to borrow loans in New York and failed. They attempted to obtain a loan in London. I am told the amount they sought was £5 million and the amount offered by the public was £600,000. The balance had to be found by a brokerage firm. If that is so, and if our credit in Britain, because of the mismanagement of this Government, has dropped to the stage where we are only worth £600,000, it is a sorry day for Ireland.
A large firm in this country, Roadstone Limited, recently floated a loan for £1½ million. In 15 minutes, the public offered £10½ million, but the Government of the country, not alone here in Ireland but in Britain as well, could only get £600,000 of the £5 million loan. This makes a fairly clear picture of the value of the present Government in the eyes of the ordinary people of this country and of the ordinary people of the world.
We have had quite a number of switches here but there are a number of people who have not been switched. The Minister for Education has been left as Minister for Education. Perhaps it would be too soon to move him again and perhaps it might be a bit dangerous if he were made Minister for Transport and Power. He would almost certainly promise the people free bus services in every part of the country. Not so long ago he was offering free education to everybody in the country. He said that everybody up to intermediate standard could get free education and that nobody would be deprived of a university education because their people had not got the money. While he was doing this, school fees and the prices of school books were going up. As well as that, schools were closing down. The Minister for Transport and Power, if he doubts that, has only got to check with the vocational education committee in Navan that a school costing £48,000 to build two years ago had to be closed down this autumn, due to the fact that the vocational education committee were left £10,000 short by the Government of this country. While this was going on, the Minister for Education was promising free education to everybody.
Of course, only a few months earlier, he promised a free choice of doctor and free medicines to people who required them. He issued a White Paper but he was not in a position to say when it would be implemented. I asked him, when he introduced this White Paper, when it could be implemented. He said he would introduce it in November, 1967. I notice the new Minister for Health, Deputy Sean Flanagan, was in a very big hurry. He was chasing around the country arranging to visit all the local authorities and all the health authorities in order to get their views on this important change in the health services. I assumed from the haste with which he was doing this—he met two county councils on the one day, one at the unearthly early hour for a county council of 10 o'clock in the morning and the other late in the afternoon— that the new health schemes were likely to be put into operation in the very near future. When he visited Navan recently in order to meet the county council I asked him the same question as I asked his predecessor: when he expected to be able to put the new services into operation and would he still stand by the deadline of November, 1967? He told me that not alone would he not be able to do that but that he hoped to be able to do something about it in the early 1970's.
We do not see anything about that in the White Paper or in any of the statements or headlines in the newspapers that the new health schemes we hear so much about will not come into operation until the early 1970's. I do not know what the Minister for Health was racing around the country for getting people's views when there was no new legislation contemplated, and, even if it was introduced, there was no money to put those schemes into operation.
The White Paper was published because of the fact that the local elections were due to take place. The local elections did not take place and were not likely to take place this year because of developments that were taking place. Therefore, this matter could be stalled. It could be left like the Prices Bill introduced by Deputy Seán Lemass some years ago with, with the dust on it until such time as it is brought out again to fool those people they want to gain from.
There is one thing which the Government do not seem to have learned, that is, that they cannot continue to fool everybody. They cannot continue to fool even some of their own supporters. It is not just enough to make promises nowadays. There must be evidence that they intend doing what they promise to do. This will be borne home to them whenever they face the people again. I believe that that test will come much sooner than many people believe. This Government, having the experience of twice before having been beaten in two by-elections and, subsequently, being beaten in a general election will not face the by-elections now but will, in fact, plump for a general election on the basis that they might by some miracle get an overall majority that would allow them to carry on. If they do not get the overall majority, then somebody else will have to clean up the mess.
We may have a situation in the near future in which the general public will make it clear to the Government that they are sick and tired of the antics of Government Ministers in this House and outside. As I said at the start, Deputy Jack Lynch who is the new Taoiseach, is somebody who has been in public life for a number of years and he is a responsible figure. That does not mean that he, no more than anybody else, can escape his share of responsibility for the financial state of this country.
We hear a lot about collective responsibility. When the discussion took place about what happened in Radio Telefís Éireann, we were told by the then Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, and by the former Taoiseach, that the Government take responsibility for anything Ministers do. I am sure there were a few red faces over the past week, if that is so. On that basis, the Government must accept responsibility for what has been happening with regard to finance. But, in spite of that, a major responsibility must rest on the Minister in charge of the Department, who is dealing directly with the Department of Finance. The former Minister for Finance is now Taoiseach of this Government and how he will get out of this situation I do not know.
If he feels that moving along and leaving somebody else in the Ministry is the solution, he is making a mistake and I am sure that Deputy Haughey, when he takes over, will be prepared to say he has worked a miracle and that the Department of Finance is on a sound basis. I am quite sure he will be prepared to say in a short time that his Department has been able to do so well that he will indicate that he should be going again for Taoiseach. I am sure that when the Budget comes next year, it will be found that what he will be saying will not match up to the national situation. When Deputy Lynch said last week, after it had been made clear that he was getting majority support from Fianna Fáil for the post of Taoiseach and that he would be leaving the Department of Finance, that things were so bad that heavy taxation would be necessary next year, I think that was nearer the truth and I am quite sure that when the Budget comes round we will have the usual admonitions for a few weeks before it by Ministers that the ordinary taxpayer in the country must put on sackcloth and ashes and be prepared to do penance not for his own sins but for the sins of the Government.
It is extraordinary that the only hope we have of having a reasonably easy Budget is for the general election not to take place before Budget Day. If the holding of the general election is fixed for a date after Budget Day, then we will have a few months' recess. I am not sure, as happened on previous occasions and as happened this year, that it will be found necessary to introduce a supplementary budget. We will be thankful for small mercies and will be glad to escape taxation for a couple of months.
We have the situation here in which despite the Prices Bill passed last year and despite guarantees given by the Minister for Industry and Commerce that prices would not be allowed to rise and that if there was any increase in prices, particularly in essentials, he would have investigations carried out. The ESB were told to increase prices by seven per cent. We have the case of the old age pensioners who are receiving slightly over £2 a week, paying 14/7 for a bag of coal and when they buy it they cannot go far with what is left. While that is the situation we have a Government shuffling around, a Government which have proved themselves unable to govern. It is like somebody taking a pack of cards and shuffling them until the ace comes to the top, the only difference is that in this particular pack there is no ace and the unfortunate country has to stagger along under the incompetent Government we have and try to get out of the mess into which they have led us.
Whether or not the situation will improve or disimprove is not, I think, up to the present Government. I do not think the Taoiseach can, with the material he has at hand, improve the position. I am not saying, and I do not want to be taken as saying, that the people serving under him are deliberately doing wrong, but I honestly believe they are not the material of which a good government can be made. In spite of their efforts, no matter how anxious they are to do things right, I do not think they can. Despite the fact that they have an excellent Civil Service behind them and that they are able to come in with facts and figures and use them in their own way, they have presented a pretty sorry figure and the changing around of the few Ministries will not, I think, make very much difference.
It is noted that two Ministries have been combined. It was suggested by Deputy Corish here today that two more could easily have been combined —Social Welfare and Health—which are closely intertwined and it is rather a pity that an effort was not made to try to put the two together particularly because of the fact that the Minister for Labour has at present taken away a considerable amount of the work of Social Welfare.
But, the biggest trouble in all this is that this Government do not seem to feel any necessity for urgency in their work. I think it was particularly noticeable when the Government's new Ministers were announced today that they seemed to think: "OK, we have got back again and we can just jog along, no need to worry, everything is all right." I think there is, indeed, a necessity for urgency. There is a necessity to treat the present situation as if it were a national emergency, as it is.
Somebody suggested some time ago that if ever there was a necessity in the country for national government that necessity is now. I do not subscribe to that view. I believe a national government would simply result now in covering up for the ills that Fianna Fáil have brought on the country. It had been suggested that they should get a mandate to rule at the last election. That Deputy Lemass, as Taoiseach at that time was successful in getting an equal number of votes from those who were not of his Party, whether mandate to rule or not, is something which will be debated from time to time. Because of certain things that have happened the Government have been able to carry on. Because of the illness of certain Deputies, because certain Deputies have forgotten the people who put them in here, because they completely ignored the fact that they were elected on the votes of anti-Government people when they voted for the Government on occasion, they succeeded in keeping in the Government when pressure was put on.
Take all these things into consideration and we still have a situation in which this Government have not an overall majority and will, after the next general election, have a much lesser number than they have now. In fact if they hold the by-election they are bound to lose the one seat of theirs that is at stake. We will make no secret of the fact that if the Labour Party continue as they are they must win one and will probably win the two. Be that as it may, the Government would be doing the decent thing if, instead of appointing a new Taoiseach and a new Government, they went to the country and let the country elect a new Government. The people of this country have the right to do that and they should have been given the opportunity of doing it when the occasion arose.