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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 11 Dec 1974

Vol. 276 No. 9

Private Members' Business. - Adjournment Debate: Butter Price Increase.

The citizens were shocked when they heard the news of the savage increase in the price of butter announced this week. First, I should like to quote from a leading article in the Irish Independent of Tuesday, December 10, which gives a clear indication of what is involved and the manner in which the increases took place. The editorial states:

—the increase in the price of butter has been sneaked into the pipeline and will emerge later on this week to further infuriate and depress the shopper. The size of the increase is iniquitous (it was 5p last month) and the manner of allowing the news to get out reprehensible in the extreme.

—an increase in its price will be felt immediately, especially by those who already have to budget carefully to make their wages, pensions and salaries go round. For such people there is no choice, given a further rise except to cut down on the amount of butter consumed. And winter-time is hardly the right moment for this kind of rationing.

But this kind of clinical manipulation of subsidies and prices is only done at the expense of the public which indeed, has long ago given up the task of understanding what agriculture is all about.

The decision to remove the subsidy was made by someone utterly out of contact with the public and its problems. It is a demoralising decision, too.... But ordinary humanity should demand that the Government hold up for the moment its latest increase.

They are the words of the Irish Independent, a paper that is normally sympathetic to the Government.

We now have a situation where the political con-men now in Government who presented to the people 20 months ago a 14-point plan to control prices and to reduce the price of foodstuffs use a backdoor method to increase the price of butter. This was made known to some people on Saturday and it meant that the shopkeepers who became aware of the decision withdrew their stocks from sale and people who could afford to pay were unable to obtain butter. People are unable to obtain butter until such time as the Minister makes an order.

I am surprised that the Minister for Industry and Commerce is not here to answer this debate. Was there some difference of opinion with the Minister for Industry and Commerce who is normally called upon to answer questions raised in relation to prices? For some unknown reason the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries will be replying to this debate. However, the political con-men are here in some form or another. The housewives were shocked and horrified at this increase in the price of butter. If taken with the increase imposed in October of 5½p, an increase of 17 per cent, this increase brings the price of butter to 41½p. This December increase amounts to 11 per cent. In February the price will increase again by 2p, an increase of 6½ per cent, bringing the price to 43½p while in September there will be a further increase of 1½p or 4 per cent, bringing the price to 45p. This all amounts to an increase over a 12-month period of 41 per cent.

Is this what the Government calls price stabilisation? Is this the type of price stabilisation we have been promised? The Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries has not been here for some time and it is probable that he is not aware of the arguments put forward in relation to Government policy in the recent debate on the petrol price increase. In that debate many Ministers indicated that it was Government policy to increase the price to cut demand. We have a situation now where not alone have they endeavoured to cut demand for petrol but also to cut the demand for one of the necessities of life, butter. The Government want to take butter from the table of the ordinary person.

On the occasion of the debate on the increase in the price of petrol we were told by the Minister for Industry and Commerce that there was something else involved other than the cutting of demand; there was also the question of reducing the speed limit. However, as the Minister cannot reduce the speed limit in this regard, I wonder what his alternative is. The alternative appears to be that if people cannot buy butter they must buy margarine. The price of butter has been put beyond the reach of the average worker and, with so many people unemployed, there is no doubt that many will be without butter over Christmas and in the future.

We are told by the National Dairy Council that there will be a drop in domestic butter consumption of 10 per cent. We will probably have a build-up of this butter mountain we heard so much about in the past. It may well be that this was done by design; it may be a feed the Russian campaign. It is probably the intention to feed the Russians at 12p per lb. while depriving our housewives of one of the necessities of life. It may be that the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries may have a suggestion to make, just as the Minister for Industry and Commerce had in relation to the conserving of fuel by the reduction of the speed limit. Will the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries now suggest that people should eat fried bread now that butter will not be available?

It is obvious that the Government wish to curtail by price increases the necessities of life. In the past we heard a lot about the 14-point plan but can the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries explain how the Government aim to control prices and reduce the price of foodstuffs?

The Minister may say that this is as a result of the green £. This party supported the green £ with the proviso that essential foodstuffs would be subsidised and some portion of the £50 million would go towards subsidising the necessities of life. The Government have no desire to subsidise or to alleviate the distressed people, many of whom are unemployed, with many more to become unemployed over Christmas. This ever-increasing spiral of people on the dole, the lengthening of dole queues——

I gave the Deputy permission to raise the matter of the increase in the price of butter and I cannot allow him to bring in extraneous matters.

I want to point out that while it was difficult under normal circumstances for a person in full employment to have the means to purchase the necessities of life the people in the dole queues have no chance of purchasing butter. Perhaps the Minister will have further suggestions to make. Perhaps he will suggest —now that cars will be off the road and people will be using margarine— that this is done in the interests of people's health. They can have plenty of exercise and eat non-fatty foods. I am sure the Minister will have some reason to present to this House and to the public why they should do without butter in the future and why the Government are putting this necessity of life beyond their reach.

Much can be said about the type of tactic to which we have become accustomed—the "budget of the day Government". We had a budget on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. We have had a budget every day this week so far. One wonders what will be taxed next.

And there are three days left.

It may well happen that before Christmas there will be a turkey tax to knock the stuffing out of the country altogether. It would not be beyond the bounds of possibility that the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries would think up some such scheme. But there is no doubt that it is a serious matter for the people who have not got the necessary means. I would draw attention to the fraud and deceit of these political con-men in Government who promised a reduction in food prices; who promised people that they would not alone stabilise prices but would reduce the price of essential foodstuffs. As part of Government policy they are now making the essentials of life so dear that consumption will be reduced. That is the stated policy of the Government. I do not blame the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries if he is not aware of this. The Minister for Finance, the Minister for Industry and Commerce, and indeed other Ministers have suggested that this was a necessary action. They spoke about a petrol leak but we shall have a butter leak from the North now in circumstances in which people are permitted to take £52 worth of goods back which, in terms of butter, would amount to approximately 247 lbs. per traveller.

What will the Government do about that? Have they thought up another scheme to deal with the butter leak? They are a Government who have operated on the basis of leaks since they took office—a leak here, a leak there, an unofficial leak——

An informed source.

——an informed source leak, a Government Minister leak, repudiated by a well informed source, repudiated by another Minister.

I think they are going to burst.

They would need a plumber straightaway. There is no doubt that this situation is a very serious one for housewives.

We want to know what will be the next increase. The Government have fiddled with every other possible device to deprive people of the necessities of life. Since they came into power they reduced the size of the loaf, another form of deception. Now they have taken the butter off people's tables, the petrol out of their cars. One wonders what will happen next.

I intend giving some time to my colleagues but, once again, I want to point the finger at the political con-men. It will be interesting to hear what they have to say about the future and about the deceptive manner in which they implemented this increase, amongst others.

I hope that the sharpness of Deputy Dowling's mind and his ability to make his point in what ostensibly might be assumed as being on a lighter note will have served more than anything else to indicate what I think is the feeling of the people, in Dublin especially and throughout the country, their feeling about this misfortune that has hit the country and which is masquerading in the name of a Government.


Hear, hear.

I hope the people will be as patient and show the same forbearance as we have shown here. At times, especially in the last few days, I have begun to doubt the wisdom of my own attitude in accepting what I have always done as a responsible attitude towards everything happening here. I wonder if it is necessary for somebody from these benches, or from the benches over there—and this evening I was pleased to hear a rather rebellious note in the contribution of Deputy O'Connell—to speak out before this country reaches the point where no future Government will be able to recover the standard of living enjoyed until such time as the con-men took over.

I am anxiously waiting for the Deputy to get to the subject matter of this debate, the price of butter.

I am hoping, Sir, that you will not—as I would suggest you have been doing in the past—misread your position in regard to protecting.


Hear, hear.

You are not obliged to do that, a Cheann Comhairle.

The Chair will do its duty, Deputy, and will not be lectured by the Deputy.

I will develop the point I am making. We had here last evening a so-called responsible Minister basing increases on what he called discretionary spending. He based justification for an increase on what a newspaper editor said. Where is he this evening? Will he call this discretionary spending, he who, for so long here—in company with his other fellow Socialists—bled white, blue, and pink blood on behalf of the people? Where is he this evening when he realises that there are thousands of people in Dublin city who no longer can think in terms of bread and butter matters as something mundane and commonplace but who must now accept that bread and butter have become luxuries which they cannot enjoy?

In the matter of the subsidy which has been removed and which, we are told, makes this increase necessary, I would ask the Minister who has graced the House with his presence why the subsidy would not at least have remained until the end of the fiscal year. I know there is an obligation that certain subsidies be removed. But surely there was no need to remove this one until the end of the fiscal year which, this year, is 31st December.

I hope the Minister will realise, as I do, the circumstances which have been created in which the people are unable to purchase all those foods which are so essential. For example, in the matter of meat and cheese people are now unable, because of the escalation which has occurred in prices in that area, to purchase them. Formerly they had at least the satisfaction, especially in a house where there were many children, of being able to buy some butter. They will not be able to do so from now on. I appreciate that Deputy Keating, the Minister for Industry and Commerce, if he were here, could, in his damping-down fashion, offer us the solution that people need not have children and we could have an extension of this philosophy.

They could have mature relationships.

They could have— this extension of a contraceptive Government who could say: "Do not have children; you will not need butter and, therefore, the price is irrelevant." I hope the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries will get a little prompting from his Socialist Parliamentary Secretary——

I intervene to tell the Deputy his time is just up.

——to explain to him what is happening here.

I should explain why I am here instead of the Minister for Industry and Commerce, since the query was raised. This subsidy, that has now been withdrawn, has been on the Vote of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries since the days when the milk price allowance was paid. This was paid to enable us to sell butter to Britain and to various other parts of the world at give-away prices. It should have been removed when we joined the EEC. It is being removed now from the Vote of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries and that is why I am here to reply to Deputies Dowling and Tunney.

For a number of years I had the honour to represent in this House the major portion of that area represented now by Deputy Dowling and I found the people there to be very decent.

They are hungry now.

But they could be misled easily regarding matters such as this.


Order, please.

There are plenty of votes for Deputy Dowling in this sort of act because the people in Ballyfermot and in other parts of the area represented by him are of the opinion that farmers down the country are living in the lap of luxury.

They cannot buy the butter, either.

The Chair must ask that the Minister get the same good hearing for his few minutes as the Deputies got for their 20 minutes.

That goes also for the area represented by Deputy Tunney. The people in these urban constituencies are not aware of how people have to live in rural Ireland.

The Minister is joking now.

I am surprised that Deputy Meaney has allowed this sort of discussion to take place because he should know that dairy farmers in his area are not getting too much for milk.

I shall have a question down next week in that regard.

Will Deputies please desist from interrupting?

I do not wish to see the price being increased on anything I must buy but at the same time I would not want anybody to be taxed in order to subsidise part of the price that I must pay. I do not think that the people in Deputy Dowling's area should be taxed in order that the Deputy might buy his butter at a lower price.

They have been taxed on petrol.

What the Deputy is suggesting is that those people in his area who work in factories and in other places should be taxed to the extent that would allow him buy butter at unrealistic prices. That goes for Deputy Tunney, too.

The Minister is being facetious.

Tell us about the 14-point plan and the stabilising of prices.

The Minister is not codding us.

He cannot be serious.

The Chair would again appeal to Deputies to allow the Minister make his contribution.

Of course I am being serious.

What the Minister is saying will not be of much use to the people in Finglas and such places.

Are the taxpayers of Ballyfermot and Finglas to be expected to subsidise the price of butter so that Deputy Dowling and Deputy Tunney may buy it at lower prices?

That is a queer question.

The people of Finglas or anywhere else should not have to pay part of the subsidy.

Nobody wants the consumer to have to pay more for an important food product.

The less well-off should be looked after.

Will Deputies please allow the Minister avail of the short time remaining to him?

We should not forget that we are talking about a commodity that is yet subsidised heavily, subsidised to the tune of £52 per ton.

By whom?

Half by FEOGA and half by the taxpayers.

Why did the Minister not spell that out in the first place?

Did the Minister fight for the British price?

In the interest of fair play the Chair can only appeal to Deputies to allow the Minister reply.

It was the Minister who drew me into this. I had not spoken.

The Deputy is not entitled to speak.

In every other EEC country, with the exception of Britain, the price of butter is much higher than it is in Ireland but we have been accused of not caring about the poorer people. We are one of the three countries in Europe who have operated the social welfare butter scheme. We embarrassed Britain into doing likewise and Germany have implemented a similar scheme.

The Russians get it at 13p per pound. We will be able to continue sending it to the Reds at that price or even less as we are sure to have a butter mountain here now.

I would remind the Deputies opposite that we are the highest consumers of butter in the world——

That will be the case no longer.

——and that the amount being consumed is increasing every year.

What is wrong with that?


Order, please.

Do Bord Bainne approve of the Minister's argument?

I might add that Deputy O'Malley has been telling the people they would be better off not to consume so much fat——

The Minister for yogurt.

——and that it would be better for their health if they consumed less butter. People must get used to the idea that in future they will have to pay the actual price for butter. Deputy Dowling said that part of the price increase was due to the green £.

That is not what I said.

Fianna Fáil were pressing for the green £.


The Deputies are totally out of order in behaving in this fashion. The Minister should be allowed reply.

Of course the increase is due to the green £ but this green £ together with the 5 per cent that we were fortunate enough to get will mean an injection into our economy of £50 million. Everybody will benefit from this including the workers in the various factories where milk is produced. This was backed by Fianna Fáil.

With a provision that there would be subsidies for essential foodstuffs for the less well-off. The Minister should be honest.

Order, please.

Will the Deputies explain why butter should be singled out as the only product to be subsidised?

So as to lessen the impact on essential foodstuffs for the people who cannot afford them. That was our philosophy and it should be the Minister's too, if he has any social conscience.

Deputy Dowling, Deputy Collins and Deputy Tunney seem to know very little of the philosophy of their party.

What I know for certain is that people cannot buy butter.

I remember when, in a clear sweep, Fianna Fáil removed £11 million in subsidies from essential foodstuffs.

Let the Minister get back to the matter before the House. Has he anything to tell us about the 14-point plan or the stabilising of prices? He is a sham.

It was Deputy Collins who introduced the question of the philosophy of Fianna Fáil.


The Minister should not be shouted down in this way.

There is no reference to the fact that our butter is cheaper than is the case in the other countries.

The incomes of our people are lower, too. Also, social welfare payments here are less than in these other places.

Shame on the Minister.

Take it easy over there.

Let the conservative man speak.

He is supposed to represent the Labour Party but they have sold out for a mess of pottage.

He has let down the fishermen. He has been a total failure.

Are we to have any order?

I do not understand the mentality of the Deputies opposite.

What about the boat-building industry.


Is there no hope of restoring order?

Of course there is.

Can the Deputies opposite explain why it is only butter they want subsidised and not such commodities as beef and bread? For some unknown reason they want the taxpayers who are employed in the industries in Deputy Dowling's constituency to subsidise butter.

We want essential foodstuffs to be subsidised.

Time has expired.

The small farmer is a write-off.

I repeat that the time has expired.

It is deplorable that I was not allowed reply.

The Dáil adjourned at 11 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 12th December, 1974.