The scheme of this Bill is, I think, quite simple to understand. It provides for the regulation of the export of sheepskins. It provides that no person can export sheepskins from the Saorstát except under a licence, to be issued in accordance with the provisions of the Bill, by the Minister for Industry and Commerce. The object of the introduction of the Bill is to secure the development, or the revival, of the fellmongering industry in the Saorstát. The industry may not be of very great importance when compared to others, but it did provide in the past not inconsiderable employment for adult skilled workers in a number of towns in the Saorstát. During the period of the Great War and in subsequent years, the industry dealt with all the sheepskins produced in the Saorstát but in latter years it has declined and, quite recently, its complete extinction appeared to be extremely likely. One of the reasons why the extinction of the industry appeared likely was that the sheepskin buyers from Great Britain were organising themselves to secure control of the supplies here, and to that end were paying for sheepskins prices which the Irish fellmongers could not afford to pay and which, in their opinion, were not justified by the state of the market, having regard to the prices to be realised for the pelts and the scoured wool. It is proposed that the Bill will be operated so as to secure an adequate supply of skins for the fellmongering yards here while at the same time checking any tendency that may appear on behalf of Irish fellmongers to take advantage of a closed market in order to depress prices unduly. The prices at which sheepskins should be purchased can be easily determined, having regard to the prices secured for the pelts and the wool. As long as that price is being paid there is no reason why any sheepskins which the Irish fellmongering yards are capable of dealing with should be exported.
There was a number of firms engaged in the industry here some years ago. At the present time only three are in operation, although I understand that certain firms that were, until recently, in operation and that are now inactive will commence operations again as soon as this Bill is passed into law. While, in a sense, this is a minor measure, some apprehension was caused and was given expression to in the Dáil on the grounds that the fact of restricting people from exporting sheepskins might, in some way, affect the price of sheep. I think it is clear that that cannot happen. The price of sheep— we have an exportable surplus of these animals—will be determined by the export price, so that any reduction that might take place in the price of sheepskins would be a matter of concern only to those who are dealing in the butchering of sheep here and not to those engaged in the production of sheep. It is not to be anticipated that any reduction in price will take place that might not otherwise occur. Last year, of course, there was a substantial increase in the prices paid for skins. That was due to certain causes, one being the alleged fact that British fellmongers were paying a price for skins that was not justified by the market in order to complete the efforts that they have been making in recent years to control the whole supply in this country. The British fellmongers, of course, are operating on a much larger scale than the fellmongers here. The number of skins that they purchase here represents only a very small proportion of their total purchases, and consequently a temporary inflation of prices here would be a matter of little concern to them, even though it might operate to put a number of Saorstát fellmongers out of existence altogether. There is no reason to fear that any difficulty will arise in disposing of the products of the industry which have always been in demand. In fact, at the present time the demand appears to be in excess of the supply. The persons engaged in the industry have no apprehensions that they will not be able to dispose of all they can possibly produce.
The aim of the Bill is to secure that all the sheepskins available here will be fellmongered in the country. At a later stage it may be possible to secure the establishment here of an industry for the tanning of the pelts but that industry is not one which can be easily brought into existence because it requires a very high degree of technical skill that is not yet available to us. We trust, however, that the operation of this measure and the revival of the fellmongering industry will at least be a step forward towards the establishment of the other industry at a later stage.