I understand Deputy Connolly was in possession and has 12 minutes to continue.
Private Members' Business. - Footwear Industry: Motion (Resumed).
I want to thank the Chair for allowing me 12 minutes. I thought I had about eight or nine only.
When speaking last week I was dealing with the prospect of unemployment. As will have been seen over the weekend, about 70 workers were made redundant. Therefore, it can be taken that the position is deteriorating. In his speech last week the Minister went out of his way to say that neither Dublin nor London had anything to do with the matter at all; it was all decided in Brussels, Luxembourg, or some such place. He went on to point out the regulations prohibiting him from doing anything to alleviate the situation. The Minister then accused us of being responsible for having brought about this situation because of our entry into the EEC. On the eve of his departure for the summit meeting in Paris, the Taoiseach, as reported in the Press, stated: "If England were to withdraw from the EEC, we would stay in." He must have had the approval of the Government to make a statement of that nature, a Government of which the Minister is a member.
I am really worried now as to whether the Minister is in earnest about doing what he can to help the boot and shoe industry workers in the serious situation in which they find themselves. I want to refer to the tanneries. When the Minister went back to his Department at the weekend did he examine the possibility of doing anything to ensure that we could carry out all processing here? We should have tackled this matter before now. We will have to tackle it sooner or later. The advisers in the business should have come up with that suggestion, but they did not do so. I am not laying all of the blame on the Minister, because I like to be as constructive as is possible in my arguments. I am not a person who lays blame here, there and everywhere. But I stress that something along those lines should have been done, possibly years ago, but certainly something must be done immediately. I would strongly urge the Minister to have his advisers investigate the possibility of doing something forthwith.
Finance should be found for these very important footwear projects, manufacturing and so on. This is an industry which has been built up over the years. As I was explaining the last evening, it is an industry in which, when workers are made redundant— some of them, perhaps 30 years in the business—they cannot easily adjust to employment elsewhere. AnCO may come up with a training course or something else, but when a man reaches 50 years of age or, I would go so far as saying, over 40 years of age, he has got into a routine which is very hard to break; he is beyond the crossroads. This is the situation facing many such workers at present.
I think also of the statement made a few weeks ago by the Minister to the students of Bolton Street College when he went there to confer degrees or issue certificates. The Minister ended up by advising the students to keep demonstrating and causing trouble.
That is absolutely untrue.
That is what the Press reported the Minister as saying.
If the Deputy gets the quotation accurately, he may quote me.
The Chair would suggest to Deputy Connolly and to the Minister that we cannot have any talk across the House. I would ask Deputy Connolly to make his remarks through the Chair.
All right, Sir, I was merely quoting what the report said. I am really worried now as to whether the Minister, his Department or the Government have anything in mind. There is, I believe, a task force in the country at present. I know all these people fairly well. They will move around a tremendous amount, speak to an enormous number of people, write many reports which, I presume, will have to be sent to Brussels. We are approaching the Christmas vacation and, between one thing and another, I am of the opinion now that this task will continue well into the New Year. But we are faced with the problem that if they do not come up with anything, the Minister's Department must have plans ready to be put into operation to salvage the position —and I mean "Salvage".
With regard to the design aspect, I do not want anybody to think that we have not got designers of adequate calibre. We have top designers. One of them in my own area won the shoe design award, as I stated the last evening. That will not stand up as a gimmick to be put across in order to profiteer at the expense of others, workers or the public at large.
I should like to know whether the Minister would meet the union representatives, the workers, the manufacturers and, above all, top traders here. I shall lay blame on some of those top traders who have not been pulling their weight. There is no doubt about that. They could have patronised our shoe and boot industry, boosted sales more than they have done. They cannot get away with merely saying that this, that or the other does not suit. They may say that they are in the business for profit and perhaps the margin of profit is higher on the foreign-made shoes than on those manufactured at home.
Last week the Minister said he was about to launch a Buy Irish campaign. I am wondering why, when the Minister became aware of the serious situation not only in regard to the shoe industry but in other industries such as textiles, he did not launch such a campaign then rather than do so now on the eve of Christmas. It would have been more appropriate to have launched this campaign three or four months ago. I might add that it was not until the other day that the unions woke up and realised the extent to which workers are losing their jobs. This situation is bad enough but to add fuel to the flames the workers must now bear a 15p increase on the gallon of petrol. This increase has been imposed at a time when many people are on shortened working weeks.
In regard to the task force referred to by the Minister, can he say if it will be possible for these people to make recommendations? Any recommendations they might make and which would be of help to the industry should result in contingency plans being put into operation immediately. Perhaps, too, the IDA could help by way of grants to bolster up the industry and tide it over this difficult time.
Regarding some new industries being set up here by people from outside I would make the point that these have yet to prove themselves. It is alarming to note that the cost of providing a job in an industry is between £900 and £1,100. It is my belief that we have the right management in our shoe factories and we know that we have good workers. Therefore, if the Government give the lead by way of financial support, I am optimistic that the industry will weather the storm but success or failure depends on the Minister and on the Government.
I am glad to have the opportunity of contributing to this debate. As a member of a family who have been associated with the shoe industry for many years and with one of the oldest factories in the country, it would be remiss of me to let the opportunity pass without saying a few words regarding the present situation in the industry.
Let me say first that all of us know that the shoe industry has been experiencing what we might refer to mildly as a difficult stage. In the House last week the Minister for Industry and Commerce referred to a task force from the EEC coming here on a fact-finding mission. I am informed that six people visited this country in this regard on Sunday last when they met with representatives of the trade unions, of the manufacturers and with officials of the Department. I understand that, having heard from all sides concerned, they are to report back in due course. The Minister deserves credit for his efforts in that regard.
Prior to our accession to the Community we were all made aware that, in the event of membership of the EEC, the protective tariffs that had rightly been given to the shoe industry down through the years, would be phased out. I am satisfied that the Irish manufacturers have played their part in keeping the industry alive and that the goods produced were comparable with, if not better than, anything that was imported.
From the figures available to me I understand that the lowest rate of duty on footwear is that in respect of importations from Britain which is 10 per cent but that this will be reduced to five per cent from 1st July, 1975, and will be phased out completely as and from 1st July, 1976. The duty in respect of imports from the other EEC countries is 32 per cent and that, too, is to be phased out by 1st July, 1976. I am convinced that anything the Minister can do—I emphasise "can do"—to help the footwear industry will be done by him but he has a problem in so far as the EEC regulations are concerned. It is hardly likely that he will be able to get any extension of the phasing out dates. I am sure that the manufacturers heeded the warnings that were given to them in regard to the situation in EEC conditions.
According to my figures, there are 34 factories in operation which employ 4,600 workers. While the picture may seem depressing, it is no harm to strike a note of encouragement, and I am happy to see from the figures that in my own constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny, in which there are two factories, Carlow Shoes employ about 40 people, and there have been no redundancies in the past 12 months. Impact Shoes also employ about 40 workers, and again there have been no redundancies in the past 12 months. and I hope that will continue. In Kilkenny there is the firm of Padmore and Barnes. I have no figures for the numbers employed but I congratulate them as I do the two factories in Carlow on doing quite well. The success of these three factories is due to the design of the articles they produce and the value they give for money. Today we are all more priceconscious than ever. While, in order to capture the market you must produce goods at a reasonable price, it is very important that the goods which are produced are of good quality. In saying that I am not being critical of any Irish manufacturer. We can hold our own with any other country.
However, I want to refer to a point made by the previous speaker and with whom, perhaps for once, I thoroughly agree; and if he had not said it I intended to say it. I do not believe—and it may not be a popular thing to say—that the Irish manufacturers of footwear are getting a fair deal from certain retailers or wholesalers. At a function I attended last Sunday night—admittedly it was a political function—I finished my speech by appealing to the public to buy Irish goods. During the festive season people give presents and spend a little more money than usual. People should be asked to ensure that, when they go into a footwear shop—perhaps I would be straying from this measure before the House if I mentioned any other goods, but I include the lot— they are supplied with Irish footwear in order to protect the jobs of the people engaged in this industry and to protect the economy.
It is disturbing to note that imports of footwear, broadly speaking, amount to between 45 and 63 per cent this year. I am not sure how this can be controlled now that we are one of the nine members of the EEC. I understand restriction of imports may only take place under Article 135 of the Act of Accession to the EEC, and this would have to be approved by the member countries of the EEC. I am not certain as to what the position of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, or whoever would be dealing with this, is in this connection, but I would appeal to the Minister to use his influence if it is possible for him to do something in the matter.
While I have, I suppose, been critical of certain wholesalers and retailers, I am not picking out any particular wholesaler or retailer. I am speaking generally and I have no evidence of anybody in particular being guilty of giving preference to imported goods in the footwear trade. Judging by the percentage figures I have already given somebody must be at fault somewhere. There is an old saying, and a very true one, that no man is a prophet in his own country. I remember a certain shoe manufacturing firm which was founded about 1904. The person who started that industry—and I will not mention his name—had to open a retail shop in his own town because the local traders would not sell his goods. I am afraid that is happening in the footwear industry throughout the country today.
There have been exceptional circumstances over the past 12 months. I believe there was a certain amount of over-buying by manufacturers and the retail trade. Some of this was due to the expectation of rising prices and increases in the cost of raw materials. Petrol prices have also risen. As we all know, petrol has a certain amount to do with plastics which are also used in the footwear industry.
In Dublin city unfortunately we had the bus strike and the bombs. They must have affected shoe shops in the city. Some of the main streets were deserted for a long time. I often wonder how the retailers survived because that must have had a certain effect on business.
I also understand that during the first six months of this year imports of footwear from the United Kingdom were in the region of 75 per cent and 14 per cent came from other EEC countries. There is a potential danger —and I am not quite certain if the Minister is empowered to do anything about it—of imports of footwear from lower cost countries outside the EEC. Perhaps the Minister might give information on this point, if it is available.
The Minister for Industry and Commerce received a submission made on behalf of the Irish Shoe and Leather Workers' Union, the Workers' Union of Ireland and the Irish footwear manufacturers. I am sure all interested Deputies have read this document. I should like to put on record a paragraph which is of interest:
The retail trade in Ireland, in common with all other sectors, have had to face greatly increased costs this year. As they are able to buy imported shoes much cheaper than their direct equivalent of Irish made shoes, they are able to get a much higher profit mark-up on these shoes. For this reason, more and more retailers are turning towards purchasing imports rather than home produced shoes.
I take it that this is a true statement as it comes from the people concerned. In the footwear industry and the retail trade there is a certain mark-up profit on all shoes. I have not bought a pair of shoes recently but I think the retail price is on the sole. I know a little about this industry and I am aware that there is a bigger mark-up on ladies' shoes as against gent's shoes. This is quite fair because men's fashions do not change very much while the women's fashions change quickly. I can understand that an additional mark-up is necessary for any retailer. He may buy a line of ladies' fashon shoes, say one dozen pairs, and he could be left with five or seven pairs which he might have to sell under cost. Last week I had a discussion on prices and the cost of living with a friend. I said that we could freeze prices at the expense of jobs and he said: "Why not let the Minister for Industry and Commerce ask the retail trade what mark-up they need"? He could agree with them on a fair mark-up. This person said to me that there were shoes being imported into this country which were being bought at £3 per pair and sold at over £12 per pair. I do not know how true that is. His argument that the same mark-up should apply to gent's shoes even if they are imported was valid. It shocked me to hear that if a certain fashion shoe was imported at a low price a high price could be obtained for it.
We might appeal to people to buy Irish but there are certain people who have no pride in their own country. There are people who feel that because something is imported and was not manufactured by Irish labour it is 100 per cent better than the article produced in Ireland. I do not agree with them. When I am buying anything I make a habit of asking if it is Irish manufactured. If everybody did this, we would have less unemployment and not alone in the footwear industry.
I congratulate the Minister for the work he is doing. Every time prices are increased people blame him.
The Deputy's time is up.
We are all aware that increased prices are recommended by the Prices Commission and the Minister then sanctions them. I have often looked through the list and noted that many of the increases recommended are not granted. I appeal to people, not alone during this festive season, but every time they are buying footwear, to ask for Irish manufactured goods.
The reason a number of Fianna Fáil Deputies tabled this motion was to bring the serious position of the footwear industry not alone to the attention of the House, the Minister for Industry and Commerce and the Government but also to impress on the general public, the importers and the supermarkets how necessary it is that Irish goods are supported. Since the motion was put down I believe some supermarkets have had a rethink regarding their orders for home-produced footwear.
I suppose some women wonder at us asking them to buy Irish manufactured footwear. Many of them who work on restricted budgets would prefer to buy imported footwear if they can get them at a cheaper price. On the last occasion a Deputy speaking on this motion stated that imported children's sandals were sold at 40p per pair. This price is very attractive to people with large families and very little money.
We have asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce to take action fairly quickly. I asked him a question recently about what action he proposed to take to control the importation of footwear from countries outside the EEC. He came into the House without the actual percentage of footwear imported. I gave a figure which the Minister did not accept. He was asked to receive a delegation from Stedfast Shoes Limited in Carrickmacross. The reply I received on 29th October from the Minister's office stated:
I am desired by the Minister for Industry and Commerce to refer to your representations on behalf of employees of Stedfast Shoes Ltd., Carrickmacross, regarding difficulties being experienced arising out of imports of footwear from countries outside the EEC. I regret that, due to an extremely heavy schedule of commitments, the Minister is unable to receive a deputation at the present time. Senior officers of the Department will, however, be available, if so desired, to meet representatives of the Stedfast workers.
I believe the Minister should have met the deputation and discussed the worker's problems. There are between 4,000 and 5,000 people employed in the footwear industry in County Monaghan and in the town of Monaghan there are about 500 employed in it. The footwear committee of the National Federation of Drapers and Allied Traders requested a meeting with the Minister after talking to the footwear manufacturers. He seemed to have the same problem in regard to them. I do not believe any of these deputations would have suggested something outrageous. I should like to give a quotation from The Irish Press of 28th November. It relates to this matter and states:
The National Federation of Drapers and Allied Traders, Footwear Committee, has expressed concern at the apparent increase in low-cost dumping of footwear.... The statement suggests some form of limitation on footwear imports from low-cost countries, as the committee is disappointed with the Government's failure to tackle the problem. As a protective measure against dumping a minimum price ceiling on imported footwear—other than canvas footwear, wellingtons, slippers and sandals—of £2 per pair is recommended. Since 80 per cent of footwear imports are of British origin, retention of the 10 per cent duty on British footwear, to be abolished next July, is recommended. This should be in the form of a levy, with 50 per cent used to finance the industry, the remaining 50 per cent devoted to an intensive advertising campaign to promote the sale of footwear. The Committee strongly recommend that all Irish manufacturers stop importing and concentrate on making footwear—Irish manufacturers in the current year will have imported 1.4 million pairs. And manufacturers should cease importing finished uppers which are at present being imported duty-free.
Then there is a breakdown of the total estimated imports for the current year of 5.5 million pairs. These are: to supermarket outlets, 2.4 million pairs; footwear manufacturers 1.4 million pairs; wholesalers, 1 million pairs and retail specialists 0.7 million pairs.
That tells much of the story where you have footwear manufacturers importing to the tune of 1.4 million and supermarkets are distributing 2.4 million pairs. Seemingly, the retail specialists have only 0.7 million pairs, so that the portion of the entire market they have appears to be very small. If customers would insist on getting home produced shoes the situation would be very different. It is not so many years ago that we ourselves were a low-cost country, low-cost in wages. That changed in time and I think credit is due to the Fianna Fáil Party, largely through the initiative and foresight of the late Seán Lemass, in setting up those industries in my area in the thirties at Mullanmills and Carrickmacross. It would be a great tragedy if the present Government and the Minister for Industry and Commerce did not do all in their power to save those industries. It would be equally tragic if purchasers of footwear did not insist on getting the home-produced article and if the distributors and footwear specialists and importers tried to make a quick shilling.
We have had experience of this before. While shoes are coming in at a dumped price at present, probably in a few years the low-cost countries producing them will have their labour forces organised and getting conditions now existing here. You will then have the situation of very expensive footwear being imported but the factories and the skilled workers in them would no longer be here to provide shoes for the home market.
It has been a popular pastime of members of this Government to blame Brussels all the time, not only in this House but outside it. In my own constituency a politician recently laid all the blame on Brussels. He even suggested to the Monaghan farmers that they make a protest in England to the British Government. This seems to be the theme. It appears as if there were never problems here before. In all the years when the industry was in its infancy here, from the thirties onwards, we were a small nation with very little resources and most of the raw material had to be imported and those problems must have existed always. But at that time the problems were tackled and if a remedy was possible it was applied. At present, the blame is laid on Brussels. We must take issue with those who blame Brussels for all our ills.
The previous speaker seemed to imply that, if there was short-time and redundancy in the shoe trade, that was not the case in his area. He mentioned the workers in factories, a small number admittedly, who never went on short-time and he seemed to infer this was because they probably had superior designs and had given better value. I should like to blast that right away. The shoe manufacturers in my constituency have been in the business for both the home market and for export for the last 40 years. If they had not been well up in regard to design and management and the other necessary factors of a successful industry they could not have survived until now. That was not a valid point.
To have manufacturers importing footwear is a serious matter and one that the Minister should take up with them since it involves 1.4 million pairs.
The Minister has had a seven-point proposal submitted to him by the trade unions to deal with the present crisis. The Minister spoke the other night at great length in replying to Deputy Faulkner and referred to the legality and otherwise of imposing restrictions on imports. He said that under the provisions of the Treaty and the Act of Accession we are precluded from imposing new financial burdens on imports either from EEC or other countries. If he had answered the seven points in the trade union submission and if he had clarified those, he would have done better. I believe that in regard to dumping he can invoke certain regulations. Shoes coming into the country at 40p per pair would certainly indicate dumping because that seems to be a price at which it probably would be impossible to manufacture them.
To come back to the trade union submission, it says:
Please find enclosed a copy of the submission made to the Minister for Industry and Commerce on Friday last, 15th November, on behalf of the 5,000 workers in the footwear industry. In particular, I wish to draw your attention to Items 1 and 2 of our seven-point plan, and my colleagues and I are satisfied that immediate action is required on those points if our industry is to survive.
One of the points is that all imports of footwear from outside the EEC should stop. Admittedly, the Minister covered this in his reply but he did not say if dumping is occurring, taking into account the prices of the shoes. We ask him to have another look at point No. 1 in this plan.
Point No. 2 suggests that imports from inside the EEC should be limited to an annual amount equal to the export from Ireland in the preceding year. The submission continues in regard to that point:
In the context of 1975, we would expect that the export figure would be taken from 1973, i.e. 3.1 million pairs. We would ask that there be no further reduction in the existing tariff levels between ourselves and the UK and the other countries of the EEC.
No. 4 of the submission suggests that VAT be levied at the point of entry on all imports of completed shoes. This is a point at issue not alone in the shoe industry but in furniture and other imported articles. It seems to be very unfair that VAT is levied at point of sale for home produced articles and that large importers, distributors and wholesalers are left in a position that their stocks would be eight or nine months in the country, VAT not having been levied at the point of import. Point No. 5 of the submission suggests that an import deposit scheme be introduced on a temporary basis. It continues:
We propose that the figure of 25 per cent, similar to Italy, be used. The Minister spoke on that point and said that the economy generally in Italy had been at crisis point and that they took measures to remedy it. The footwear industry here is at crisis point and it should not be necessary to wait for the country's entire economy to collapse in order to introduce these aids to a particular industry in trouble.
The Irish footwear industry needs every possible aid from national and the EEC levels. The Minister said that a task force had been invited here. He did not tell us when they were invited. It should have been done eight months ago when the footwear workers first went on short-time. I hope the findings of this task force will be issued soon and that they will be favourable to the industry. The situation in that industry was allowed to drift and the workers did not protest at the first sign of lay-offs. It took them a few weeks to make their feelings known in a dignified way. They are reasonable people. It is work they want, not dole. In their march, they were led by the Carrickmacross band and they paraded in a dignified protest.
This would not have happened had the Minister met them at the beginning. At that time the difficulties might have been ironed out. There are about 500 workers in the shoe industry in Monaghan made up of two very large factories at Carrickmacross, a small factory in Castleblayney, a small factory in Glasslough and a large factory in Mullan, near Emyvale. The factory at Mullanmill is a good example of a rural based industry. It was established in the 1930s and has become part of the rural scene there. Small farmers' sons have found steady work there and have built their homes there with the aid of Government loans and grants. Because of the steady nature of their work many of them are repaying housing loans.
Now they find themselves not alone losing their jobs and their homes breaking up but the entire community is in danger of breaking up. The ideal situation in a rural area is that workers can continue to work and live there. In County Monaghan working in the shoe industry has become a family tradition. The loss of jobs is serious not only in that county but in Cavan as well where a large number of workers are engaged in shoe manufacture. There is no alternative employment in those areas and, therefore, the loss of jobs affects everybody there much more than in larger centres.
Those people feel that the Department and the Minister are not doing sufficient not only to safeguard the existing factories but to establish new factories to absorb the work force available due to the falling-off in the incomes of small farmers. We believe that it is a matter of urgency for them to provide not alone for the continuation of existing jobs but many more jobs and I would ask the Minister to consider very closely these submissions from the unions. They have claimed, following this very orderly and mild protest, that they will go further in time to come and probably interfere with and block the marketing of imported footwear. None of us will stand up and say that we should completely clamp down on imports but we should impress on the people the importance of this situation and should take the measures that must be available to ensure that our own-produced article gets a fair crack of the whip. In recent times various Ministers have been claiming that we on this side are not facing up to the world economic situation, that we are asking the Government to correct situations over which the Government have no control. I would not complain about a situation if there were not workable proposals for its correction, and I believe that there is sufficient written into this Act of Accession to ensure that our industries are safeguarded.
One of the annoying points of the Minister's contribution was his statement that there was a certain irony two years ago in the demands from the Opposition benches that the Government break the rules which that Opposition at the time negotiated and brainwashed the people into accepting very lightheartedly without understanding the dangerous ramifications involved. That was a very unfair statement by the Minister because he has to realise that it was the overwhelming wish of the people that we enter the EEC and we have had proof positive recently, even with what has happened in regard to imports, that we are still better in the EEC. We had a colleague of the Minister, Deputy Thornley, saying last week that our only hope is to stay in and we also had the Taoiseach before going to Brussels saying it. The Minister should not have said that we brainwashed the people. We put our case and went on platforms and the people overwhelmingly accepted our word. The Minister was speaking only for half of the Labour Party.
Deputy Pattison rose.
Before calling on the Deputy, I should say that the question must be put not later than 7.30 and the mover of the motion has to get in a quarter of an hour before that, so that the Deputy will have a minute and a half.
Before Deputy Pattison speaks, may I have it on record that I have been sitting here throughout the debate, anxious to contribute, but due to time and the procedure, I could not make a contribution?
That will be recorded.
I have less than a minute to state the case I want to state, but if the purpose of the motion is to bring home to the consumers, the people who spend the money buying shoes, the necessity, above all at this point in time, to buy Irish and particularly Irish shoes, the motion may have served some purpose but unfortunately the wording of the motion is one of condemnation of the Government, and in particular, of the Minister for his lack of action in the direction of protecting the boot and shoe industry. In his statement last week, the Minister did outline the problems confronting him in dealing with this matter, problems that were not of his or the Government's making but problems of the previous Government's making.
When the mover of the motion referred to the alleged criminal inactivity on the Minister's part in this matter, I think we also are entitled to accuse the Fianna Fáil Party of criminal inactivity in explaining to people the full consequences of accession to the EEC and the full terms they had negotiated on behalf of the people, because I am sure Deputies from the constituencies involved, be they Louth, Cavan or Monaghan, did not explain to the workers in the industry in those constituencies——
May I draw your attention, Sir, to the fact that the time is up?
——the terms of Common Market membership which the Fianna Fáil Government were negotiating at the time and what the consequences would be.
I must ask the Deputy to finish his remarks.
I merely want to say that it should be on record that already the task force from Brussels has been in this country as a result of the Minister's action and that they have got all the details, and we can only hope now that some action will be taken.
Since this debate began last week, 60 more workers have lost their employment in the footwear industry. This is a further indication, if that were necessary, of the very serious situation in which this industry finds itself. The most significant and equally the most frightening aspect of the Minister's speech was his fatalistic approach to the problems of the industry. His attitude was that while he recognised there were problems, there was nothing that he could do, that decisions were made in Brussels and that was that. This is an attitude which permeates Government thinking generally and it is frightening because it creates a frame of mind within the Government that is more concerned with thinking up excuses for inaction than taking positive action.
We are constantly being told by the Government, for example, that price increases are due to outside influences over which they have no control and so no positive action is taken to control prices and prices continue to escalate. We are told by the Minister for Industry and Commerce that he is powerless to take decisions to reduce the volume of imports from low-cost countries through the EEC or from outside the EEC and so millions of pairs of cheap footwear continue to flood the Irish market with impunity, throwing hundreds of workers out of employment and nothing is done about it because the Minister has already decided he can do nothing.
The Minister today spoke of the serious consequences, both economic and social, which would result from unilateral action in relation to imports but what of the consequences resulting from the collapse of an industry emplaying 5,000 workers? We have to take a balanced view in this matter. It is obvious from the Minister's speech that he decided that the best way to defend his inactivity was to attack Fianna Fáil and to ignore the real issue. He claimed that Fianna Fáil were responsible for Ireland's decision to enter the Common Market, carefully neglecting to refer to the active participation of the senior partner in the Coalition, Fine Gael, in the campaign for entry and further claimed that he and his party alone had warned of the dangers to the footwear industry, should Ireland enter.
He speaks for me too. I could not agree more.
Of course Fianna Fáil advocated entry into the EEC but to suggest that no warning was given by this party as to the effect of entry into the EEC is nonsense. We recognised that our entry into the EEC would mean an increased share of the home market for imports but equally we knew that the reduction in the tariff walls of the original six member countries would be the incentive needed to develop our footwear exports and to expand employment in the industry.
The share of the home market held by home produced footwear fell from 81 per cent in 1970 to 65 per cent in 1971, a fall of 16 per cent, and by 1972 it had fallen to 56 per cent, a further fall of 9 per cent and we were not a member of the Common Market during that period.
Had the economic climate in the footwear industry remained good since we entered the EEC much of the problems we are now experiencing would not have arisen. Is it possible for any rational individual to visualise a prosperous, outward-looking, developing footwear industry giving large and constant employment existing within the confines of a 26 County market while barred by high-level tariffs from entry into Britain and to the other countries of the Common Market? This would have been the position if we had not entered the EEC. In such circumstances we would still be a prey to cheap footwear from low cost countries unless we were prepared to stop all imports and to live in a completely isolated situation because, as I pointed out in my opening speech and as the Minister very well knows, tariff protection is of no assistance against the importation of goods from low cost countries or from countries where exports are heavily subsidised.
Let me further point out that this very week the Taoiseach stated that we would remain a member of the Common Market whether Britain left it or remained in it. I would like to ask the Minister if this was a Government decision and, if it was, did he protest against it? If the Minister—and I would include the Deputies on the other side of the House who referred to our activity in relation to entry to the EEC—had succeeded in his campaign against entry to the EEC our footwear industry would be confined to the 26-County market deluged by low-cost footwear and having no exports.
Absolutely untrue. You can look at the footwear industries of countries outside the Community. That is a fantasy that the Deputy has just invented.
Misrepresentation of the whole case.
It is a fantasy that the Deputy has invented, of an irresponsible kind.
As if no other country in the world had a footwear industry outside the Community. Nonsense.
I can understand why the Minister would like to prevent me from making my speech.
If the Deputy says things as stupid as that they have to be contradicted.
A free flow of trade in fair trading conditions—and I want to emphasise fair trading conditions— stimulates an industry by ensuring that quality, design, and price are right. Our prospects on entering the EEC were vitiated by abnormal economic conditions but the prospects are still there and it is most important to be prepared to avail of them when the time is opportune. Production must be rationalised and, as I said in opening the debate, we have the skill and the ability to do just that. None of the other countries in the EEC is so dependent on the footwear industry as we are. Indeed, many of them would prefer their footwear workers to engage in heavier industries. This makes Ireland an attractive place for the establishment of new footwear industries now that the tariff walls in the Common Market against our goods are practically gone. There is in my view a bright future for the industry provided always—and I want to stress this—that it gets a breathing space now in its present extremely difficult condition.
Let me again emphasise that it would be impossible to develop an export trade in this industry without having a firm base in the home market. If low-cost goods continue to flood the home market, if the share of the market for Irish products continues to be eroded, we will end up with no industry at all.
I read an article in The Irish Times of 6th December by Peter Kenyon reporting from Brussels. I quote:
Protective measures against imports of footwear and possibly textiles and clothing are being actively considered by Mr. Keating, Minister for Industry and Commerce, following exploratory talks earlier this week in Brussels.
Is not this an appalling piece of news? Here we have a Minister who has been informed of the critical state of the footwear industry by management, by unions and by Deputies on this side of the House for months on end waiting until the industry is in a state of near collapse before even beginning to have exploratory talks, never mind making decisions. Yet the Minister had the nerve to complain when I charged him with masterly inactivity. The only conclusion I can come to is that the Minister is hypnotised by bureaucratic rules and regulations to the extent that it took a Private Member's Motion in the House and a protest parade by the footwear workers to get him to move.
In his speech on the previous day, after quite a considerable build-up, he informed us that a Commission task force is coming here from Brussels this week to investigate among other things the footwear industry. I should like to ask him as I asked him already today how long it will take this task force to reach a decision. Unless it acts very promptly it will be too late. Surely a long investigation is unnecessary? The small size of the home market is well known. The enormous import figure, 5.6 million pairs of footwear, is also well known. To the workers and the management in the footwear industry who are expecting positive action by the Minister or by the EEC the Minister's announcement of a working group from the EEC to investigate conditions came as a complete anti-climax as it did to the Members on this side of the House.
Let me move a step further, as I did during the course of questions today. Suppose that the task force from the EEC decide that we have no grounds for complaint. Suppose they point to the few factories which for a variety of reasons are doing well and suggest that it is better to keep the Common Market rules intact than to save factories in serious difficulties, what would the Minister's reaction be? I asked him today if he had any contingency plans prepared and he told me that he had not. Will he revert to his stand that he can do nothing, that the rules are made in Brussels and that he is powerless?
I pointed out that I would be slow to break the rules. I recognise that it is not in the interests of small countries such as this, highly dependent on exports, to have rules changed except by negotiation. I pointed out, however, that if discussions and negotiations failed we would have to consider what further action was open to us to prevent at this critical time the collapse of the footwear industry which is vital to the Irish economy and which can develop and prosper in the future.
There are articles in the Anglo-Irish Free Trade Area Agreement and in the Rome Treaty which give some scope to the Minister. He should have concerned himself with these articles and should have taken whatever initiative was available to him. We again ask that the industry be given a breathing space, that its position in the home market be improved by curtailing imports from low-cost countries and by encouraging, by the most modern methods available, our people to buy Irish. We are saying to the people that the situation is now critical, that in their own interests and in their children's and friends' interests and in the national interest they should buy Irish at the present time. We are calling on the retailer not only to stock Irish goods but to present and to display them to the best advantage. In this way we can ensure the building of a bright future for the industry, that the development of the industry can begin at once and that the workers' future will be secure.
The Minister and the Government have failed this great Irish industry by their indecision, by their failure to act positively. This is especially underlined by the Minister's last-minute trip to Brussels on the eve of the debate. The debate, therefore, has been useful in that it has achieved some action but this is not enough. Plans should be drawn up immediately to deal with the situation that will arise should the discussions fail. The employment of our footwear workers must be safeguarded in these very difficult times.
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