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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 13 Nov 1935

Vol. 20 No. 14

Question on Adjournment. - Delay of Cattle Shipments.

I am always very reluctant, in view of my position in this House, to censure public servants, but in the present instance the matter, to my mind, is so monstrous, and shows such a gross lack of the duty which the Department's inspectors have to perform, that I feel it my duty, representing the cattle trade and the farming industry, to call attention to this as a matter of urgent importance. The big November fair in Tipperary was held on Tuesday, and a number of cattle exporters attended for the purpose of buying stock for certain markets in Great Britain, principally the York market which is held on Thursday. It is usual at all fairs that cattle bought are shipped the same night. If the cattle bought in Tipperary on Tuesday were not shipped that night, they could not possibly catch the markets for which they were intended on Thursday. Something like 500 cattle were loaded into a special cattle train at Tipperary for the North Wall, but owing to a break down on the Great Southern Railway at Templemore on Sunday night, service on the line was dislocated and the cattle were delayed in reaching the North Wall. They did not reach there until 7.30 on Tuesday night. The Department's veterinary staff was notified that the cattle were in transit, but notwithstanding that they left their work at 7 o'clock and refused to wait to inspect the cattle for shipment. The action of the Department's staff has caused serious loss and inconvenience to cattle exporters. When the cattle arrived at the North Wall, instead of being inspected and sent on to the boats to catch the markets where they were to be sold, they had to be sent four or five miles into the country or put into pens and yards at the North Wall, or into sheds and other places for the night, and possibly for a week because they would not be shipped until night. In many places it will be impossible to ship them to-night to meet markets, in consequence of the restrictions in England, under which cattle there for more than three days have to be kept in quarantine for a week. This is a very serious matter.

Even at the Kilkenny fair to-day there were reactions of the attitude of the Department's officials in not having the cattle shipped, and a large number of buyers were not in the fair. It will also tend to glut the market next week and be a serious loss and inconvenience to exporters. All the loss and inconvenience will react on producers and farmers. There cannot be a particle of excuse for the three or four, or whatever the number, of veterinary surgeons who attend the North Wall not having remained on duty to faciliate the principal export of this country. No excuse whatever can be put forward. If the dockers at the North Wall refused to work late on the ships, the management of the shipping companies would dismiss them. Here we have well-paid officials —I am not saying they are over paid— refusing to facilitate the trade of the country, leaving their work at 6.30 or 7 o'clock and refusing to inspect cattle for shipment. Many of the exporters travelled to Tipperary perhaps on Monday night's mail train in order to do their business, and possibly they invested a good deal of their capital in the stock that they bought there. Their capital is lying at the North Wall or is in yards, pens or paddocks about Dublin, and will have to remain there for a week, for the simple reason that they veterinary surgeons refused to remain on duty for an extra hour or hour and a half in order to inspect the cattle.

It is a monstrous state of affairs. It is not the first time it has occurred. They have a rule at the North Wall that, with a few exceptions, the gates are closed at 6.30 and no cattle are allowed in after that hour. I contend that that rule is all wrong, and that the Department should insist on there being no definite period, or that when cattle are held up in transit coming from fairs, and when the shipping companies are prepared to keep their boats late to take the cattle, the veterinary surgeons should remain to inspect them. I am not saying that they should not be paid for such work. If the veterinary surgeons wanted payment, many of the exporters would have paid from £15 to £20 each to have the cattle inspected. I cannot see a particle of excuse for what happened. Whatever the cost of overtime may be, I am sure the cattle trade would be satisfied to pay five times the amount that the Department would have to pay, in order that the cattle would be shipped in time for the markets.

I think Senator Counihan and the cattle trade have a very legitimate grievance in this matter. I do not know what the Minister's palliation of this will be, but I will give him an instance whereby, if something analogous occurred the State would lose revenue. If a boat did not turn up in time, and if Customs officers walked home and let things come in without Customs duties being charged, I know the treatment these civil servants would get from the Minister for Finance.

That those men should walk away after they had been notified that the cattle were in transit, and allow those cattle to lose condition and let those men, who were depending on the realisation of these cattle, to suffer a heavy loss, is a scandal, and those who were responsible for it should be treated as they deserve. If the Minister is so solicitous for the well-being of his staff, he should also have some regard for the interests of traders and producers on whom this heavy loss will fall. If his officials cannot be in attendance to receive these cattle he should give an option to the owners in such cases, if these gentlemen are so eager to be on the hour, to engage outside veterinary inspectors to examine the cattle. The men who will incur that expense are willing to pay for it. It is a scandal that the producers of this country, who Heaven knows are hit hard enough in the present circumstances, should be treated in this way by a number of officials. If the circumstances set forth by Senator Counihan are true, these officials are utterly indifferent to the losses sustained by the producers.

I should like to remind Senators that they are allowed only half an hour to discuss this question. They should therefore afford the Minister sufficient time to reply. The discussion must end at 6.20 p.m.

I do not think the Minister will palliate what has happened on this occasion. I am perfectly sure that he regrets as much as anybody else that cattle should be delayed at the North Wall. I am sorry to say that this is not the first occasion upon which cattle were delayed by reason of the failure of the veterinary officers to inspect cattle. Senator Counihan and Senator Dowdall have referred to the losses to this hard-pressed industry which arise from incidents of this kind. I should also like to refer to the injury and suffering occasioned to animals as a result of occurrences of this kind. There have been great and avoidable delays in the forwarding of cattle both at the North Wall and at railway stations. Only this morning I received a complaint as to the delay in forwarding cattle from stations in County Clare. Something should be done to put a stop to that sort of thing. I would not say that the veterinary officials are entirely to blame in this matter, because probably they act according to regulations, but certainly there should be elasticity in this matter. There should be one guiding principle that whatever happens in regard to hours, time or payments, the first thing to be looked to is that the cattle should be forwarded in proper time and that there should be no delays either at the ports or at the railway stations.

I desire to say that if the facts set forth by Senator Counihan are true, they reveal a lamentable condition of affairs at the North Wall. I am very anxious to hear the Minister's answer to the allegations made, and we should now hear the Minister.

Mr. Healy

I have been down in Cork and Kerry recently, and I have some knowledge of the condition of the farmers down there. I say that it is most unfair that professional men, who I presume are paid at professional rates, should refuse to provide facilities for the transport of cattle whenever required. I have seen unfortunate cattle sent by rail from station down the country so tightly packed that they cannot lie down. That is one aspect of the question which should be given consideration. Professional men are paid a living wage at professional standards, and I think they should be compelled to do their duty.

Either Senator Counihan or I have been grossly misinformed about this whole matter. I am informed that Mr. McClancy, the chief port supervisor—I mention names purposely so that we can get at the bottom of this matter— was asked in the forenoon of the 12th instant by Mr. Jeffares of the British and Irish line, and in the afternoon by Mr. Michael Cuddy, to grant an extension of time owing to a railway breakdown in the south. He replied that he would give the ordinary 15 minutes allowed by the regulations. Mr. Cuddy said that that was quite sufficient. Mr. McClancy then instructed the senior veterinary inspector in each of the yards to give the 15 minutes they required. At 6.40 p.m., that is ten minutes after the ordinary closing time but five minutes within the limit of the extension, 254 cattle belonging to five different owners arrived. They were admitted, fed and watered most humanely and given the ordinary two hours rest. All of these things are provided by the Department. These humane considerations are all looked to. They were inspected and shipped on the Lady Meath to Birkenhead. No other request was made for an extension and no other animals were presented after 6.30 p.m. There was no refusal made to admit any cattle, and neither Mr. McClancy nor any other veterinary examiner at the North Wall received any complaint on the matter.

Might I explain that there is no question but that the cattle were forwarded from Tipperary and arrived here? How could they be presented for shipment when the gates were closed?

The officials say they were not informed.

The answer of the Minister is complete in every detail, but the allegation of Senator Counihan remains. I think it is a very serious matter that allegations of this nature should be made in this House. Consequently I suggest that the matter be adjourned to the next meeting in order to give Senator Counihan an opportunity to produce his evidence. After hearing the Minister I am perfectly satisfied, but still the allegation has been made, and it is up to Senator Counihan to bring forward his proofs. Consequently, I suggest that we adjourn consideration of the matter until this day week.

All right.

May I point out that this debate closes automatically without a division? It is open to Senator Counihan to bring it forward again on the next day by putting down a motion. He can then substantiate his allegations, if he wishes.

The Seanad adjourned at 6.10 p.m. until Wednesday, 20th November, at 3 p.m.