That Seanad Eireann is of opinion that the Government should forth with set up a commission to inquire into the present position of agriculture and to make such recommendations as may be deemed necessary to secure for the industry an assured basis for future expansion, prosperity and stability.
By way of introduction, I should like to tell the House that if the suggestion contained in this motion be new to the House, it is not new to the Minister for Agriculture nor to the Ministry of Agriculture. At the end of 1936, or early in 1937, a deputation, of which Senator O'Dwyer and I were members, went from the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society to discuss with the Minister for Agriculture the position with regard to the dairying industry and the conditions of the agricultural industry generally. It was urged then that the position regarding agriculture was such as to necessitate the setting-up of a commission of inquiry. There were, however, reasons, good reasons, I can see in the mind of the Minister at that time to prevent his taking such a decision. Towards the end of 1937, this deputation waited again on the Minister and, in addition to the other matters discussed, the proposition for the setting-up of this commission was again brought forward. The Minister at that time seemed to have a very open mind on the matter. In fact, I think it is true to say that he indicated to the deputation that there were, in his judgement, quite a number of matters which required examination and, while he was not prepared to say there and then that he considered our suggestion one which he would be prepared to put into operation, he at least gave us to understand that the suggestion was not going to be summarily dismissed.
Senator O'Dwyer and I, on coming into this House on the nomination of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, and knowing full well what is in the minds of the people who are in the co-operative movement with regard to the future of agriculture, felt there was a responsibility on us to bring this idea before this House in the hope that an examination of the agricultural position by the members of this House would bear fruit. I should like to say that already we have the satisfaction of being able to bring together the farmer members of the Seanad, and the putting down of this motion has at least been responsible for action being taken which in its way emphasises the vocational character of this House, as we have been able already, following the putting down of this motion on the Order Paper, to get together those Senators who came in on the Fianna Fáil panel of agriculture, as well as those who came in on the Fine Gael panel. I say with considerable pleasure that when we sat around a table we found so many points of agreement that the points of disagreement did not appear at all. Here, I should like to express the hope that, whether or not those of us who were on the last occasion elected on the agricultural panel will again find a seat in the new House, there may be some left who will carry on the work of which we have attempted to lay the foundations.
In the first place, what I feel I have got to do is to convince the House that there is a case for setting up a commission to inquire into the condition of the agricultural industry and determine what can be done for its future. If the facts are of such a nature as to convince Senators here that the cause of the progress and development of agriculture can be served by the setting up of such a commission as this, then I feel that the House will agree with me that this should be done. If I were asked what I would like to do, to help the agricultural industry, I feel the first thing I would like to say would be that, definitely and as early as possible, we must relieve agriculture from the domination of the urban mind. There has been so much talk in this country in the last few years about an industrial policy that I fear that, not only those who live in the towns and cities have become completely obsessed with that mentality, but even the farmers themselves and the farmers' sons, have had their thoughts and minds turned away from the farm, and the homestead of the farm, to our towns and cities, aye, away even to cities and towns in another country. I think that until we are able to change that outlook and, if one might say so, have a new philosophy of life altogether accepted here, it is difficult to hope very much for improvement in the position of agriculture as a whole. I for one feel—and I think I am not alone in feeling this—that the position of agriculture to-day is extremely grave and that unless we face up to that situation, and face up to it very seriously, with a realisation of the fact that there are very difficult problems to be tackled, the future for the agricultural industry of this country is not bright. I suggest that it is time now, after 16 years of self-government, to take stock of the position, to examine to what extent the potentialities of land utilisation have been developed, and what methods must be adopted if these possibilities are to be exploited. A superficial examination of the situation does not afford any grounds for complacency. Production in our agriculture is, and has been for many years, more or less static. It is within the knowledge of all of us that for the last few years now, since the great depression began, the economic position of the farming population has seriously deteriorated.
I take the last point first, and I want to say at this stage that I am going to dwell on that aspect of the situation for as short a time as possible, but it is a very vital factor in the situation and we cannot consider the whole position without examining the consequences of the past few years to some extent. Since 1930 or 1931, the prices of farming commodities have, on the average, been about the pre-war level, while the cost of the materials of production have seriously increased. Agricultural wages have increased; machinery has doubled in price; rates are continually increasing, and the increase threatens to balance the relief that the farmer has got by the remission of 50 per cent. of his annuities, so that there is no doubt that the net returns from agriculture, on the whole, are considerably less than they were in 1931. On the other hand, the farmer as a consumer, just as other consumers, is affected by the increased cost of the things he has to buy for his household and his family. We have, therefore, an income less than pre-war with an increase in the cost of living of about 70 per cent.
The conclusions which we ought to draw from that are obvious. We see evidences every day around us that agriculture is not a profitable occupation. The farmer has had to draw upon his reserves for a number of years, where he had reserves; and where there were no reserves he had to go into debt to try to get other people's reserves, if he had the credit to get them, and if he had not the credit he had just to pile up debts, or so reduce his standard of living that one would not like to make comparisons to-day between the standards of living of people in rural Ireland and the standards of living of people in other parts of the country. The net result is that everywhere, from every district in the country, from the hills of Mayo, Kerry, Clare, Donegal and Cavan, just as from the better lands of Meath, Westmeath, Kildare or Kilkenny, the young people are leaving the land, either going into our own towns or going out of the country. Perhaps in ways one cannot blame them. There will, of course, be always the necessity for the surplus children of the farms to seek occupations elsewhere, but the gravity of the present situation is the unwillingness of our young people to take up the responsibilities of family life based upon farming. In sheltered occupations, in industry, in the Civil Service and in the professions, the increased cost of living has been met by higher wages, higher salaries and higher incomes generally. The farmer is not in the position of being able to pass on the increased costs of his household, the cost of the necessary commodities for his house, the increased cost of the plant on his farm, to anyone else. I think, from that point of view, it is unnecessary to emphasise the disadvantages with which the farmer has to contend to-day as against those other sections of the community.
That is within the recent past, but if we look farther back we cannot help being perturbed and impressed by the failure of agriculture to reach its full possibilities. One has only to compare the extraordinary developments in agricultural production in other countries, such as New Zealand and Denmark, to realise this. As far as one can ascertain, there has been no substantial increase in production in this country in the same period. I suggest that it is time that we should set out to examine why production has not increased in the more favourable period prior to 1929, and to endeavour to provide a long-distance programme of agricultural development which in the first place will restore confidence to agriculture as an industry to which our young people may entrust their future; and, in the second place, to see what methods of reconstruction and new technique in farming may be brought to bear upon the problem so as to render more favourable the conditions on our farms. Now, for this reason I suggest that we ought to endeavour to set up this commission. If you look at the position in this country and make a comparison with the conditions in the year 1901, you will be amazed to see how slow and how trifling has been the progress and the development in agriculture since 1901. By taking that year, one cannot be charged, I think, with dealing with the period of the economic war—it gives some indication of how little we have accomplished.
Since 1901 the number of cows, heifers and calves has increased by 12 per cent., but the total number of cattle is practically the same as in 1901. In fact, we have slightly fewer cattle to-day than in 1901. The number of sheep has diminished from 3,981,000 in 1901, to approximately 3,000,000 to-day. The number of pigs was practically the same in 1936 as in 1901. Poultry have subsequently increased from 1901, but the figure in 1936 was only about 5 per cent. greater than in 1911.