As usual, I find myself faced with such a variety of topics that I cannot promise that I will deal with them all. If I appear to be inadequate in my comments on some of the points raised by Senators I expect that Senators will excuse me, realising the amount of ground that has been covered. I have been asked to deal with what has been called "a grave situation". That phrase apparently comes from a mis-reading of the speech. I made in Donegal over the week-end when I said that certain things might happen that would upset our plans. I am not going to anticipate disaster. I know that there may be difficulties ahead and I feel that those difficulties would be increased if I made a statement which was ahead of time and therefore a mere matter of speculation. I might easily cause confusion, and if my political opponents got to work in mischievous ways on the things I did say, it might be alleged that I had caused panic and something in the nature of disaster. On the other hand, I realise that if I want public co-operation in the dangerous times that may lie ahead a statement has to be made at the appropriate time. If I do not make any statement now it is because I think that the time is not opportune for it, but I do want the House to know that I am not unaware of my obligations to the public and that if I want public co-operation in these matters the public must be advised in good time ahead. The speaker raised the matter of the "grave situation" because we are alleged to be purchasing with borrowed moneys goods that could be secured at home. I do not want general statements. I would like precise information if a charge is to be made. A statement has been made which was rather precise in connection with wheat. This country is, I think, producing—certainly last year produced —for the millers of this country more wheat than it produced for many years. That is done, not under the stress of compulsion but because the price is guaranteed for a period of five years, and was so guaranteed by the present Minister for Agriculture since the present Government came to control things. It was only natural that, once the price incentive was there, a better yield might be obtained from the land of this country. It is clear that when the element of compulsion enters in, the compulsion has to be applied on a percentage basis to almost all equally. Consequently, many who would not grow wheat in the ordinary way at any price were forced to do so and when marginal land was brought into production, for a rather specialised type of crop, the average yield per acre over the years went down and down. Last year, under the incentive of price, everybody went into wheat who had land suitable for growing wheat; and although the acreage might have fallen, the yield has been probably the best there has been in the history of this country.
Consequent on that type of phrase, the other criticism followed here that, on account of the decision to allow people to use whiter flour, more money was being spent for the purchase of wheat in the dollar countries. That, of course, is not the case. There are fewer dollars being spent on what than ever before. That is partly due to the fact that, under the International Wheat Agreement, the price of wheat is going down; but it is also due to the fact that there is nothing like the same type of improvident purchasing being done as characterised the early part of 1948. If whiter flour is being used and whiter bread is being eaten by some people, at a price which they think fit to pay for it, that does not mean that more wheat is being brought into this country or even that more wheat is being used. As far as I am concerned, the only value in the change over to white flour is when the white flour is taken, not as an addition to the ration but in substitution for it—and that is happening, and happening despite the deliberate antagonism of bakers and some millers on this matter, at an increasing rate; and the saving to the State through subsidy, and the saving then to the taxpayer, will, I hope, be considerable.
I have been asked about the two railway companies. As far as the Great Northern Railway is concerned, the public are pretty nearly in possession of as much of the facts as I am and the public will, one of these days, be asked to pass judgment on what has brought about this bad condition in the fortunes of the Great Northern Railway. I personally would hate to see the day when the Great Northern Railway had to be nationalised. It was an excellent concern. It was the last remnant we had in this country of transport under private enterprise and while it lasted it was something of a stimulus, and should have been an example to Córas Iompair Éireann. It has been brought to its present position mainly because of the increased demands made upon it in a failing situation; and if those demands are persisted in, it means that, while the same amount of money may be spent on labour, fewer employees will get the money that has to be spent on them—but that will be a matter on which the employees concerned, through their unions, will be able to make up their own minds.
With regard to Córas Iompair Éireann, the complaint is that, while the policy of nationalisation in connection with it was announced some time ago, all that has happened since is that the First Reading of a Bill has been taken. To those who complain of delay, I would say that it is not an easy matter to deal with the main transport concern of any country and it is particularly difficult in connection with Córas Iompair Éireann, when one does not enter on a clear situation but on a situation that has been confused and complicated by the errors and mistakes of the past. It will be no easy matter to extricate the new transport concern from all these difficulties and to start it on a new line, with some hope that, in the end, we may get an efficient transport service here—which we have not had for many years—and that the public will get that transport at a moderate rate.
In that connection, I have been asked about my views on nationalisation and that query has been put in the framework of "a change of mind on my part". I do not suppose it has very much importance what I think about nationalisation, but since the matter has been made a point of controversy here, I would say I do not think I have at any point said that nationalisation is in itself bad. Certainly, I will never be brought to say that nationalisation is in itself good. I take my stand on this on particular teachings I have derived from my own Church. There is a certain moral law which governs all this question of nationalisation; it is to be derived partly from St. Thomas and partly from various social Encyclicals. The principle that guides most people who are of the Christian Faith is fairly clear, that is, that indiscriminate nationalisation is condemned and selective nationalisation is approved. When it comes to the selection, there are quite definite rules and standards laid down. For instance, it is quite clear that nationalisation is allowed and permitted and even has a benediction given to it, where, whatever the concern may be, those in charge of it lack the vision, or the will, or the capital, that is necessary to bring about a good situation where a bad one exists. I think it is also regarded as sound that nationalisation might take place where some commodity vital to the country has drifted under the control of a ring or of a cartel, or of some group that goes in for monopoly control and for the huge profits that could easily be gained from monopolies. In addition to that, there are certain things like armaments and such matters that are of vital importance to the public; or, even though there may not be price fixing or anything like that, where it is still regarded as a good thing that they should be under public control, that is, under Governmental control.
Those are the tests I would apply to any scheme of nationalisation. At the same time, I would like to state—and this is possibly what is in the mind of the Senator who misunderstood my remarks—another position, that is, as between nationalisation and other forms of ownership, I will give a preference to widely diffused private ownership, particularly on a co-operative or corporative basis; and I think that is the objective of most of the schemes that one finds praised from time to time. There is also a point to be recognised—and here, I suppose, there is more controversy than anywhere else—that under private capitalis both producers and consumers have more personal independence, more freedom, more responsibility and everything else, than they would have under nationalised concerns. If there is, so to speak, a borderline case, my option all the time would be for the operation of private enterprise; and I think that on that I have a good deal of Church authority. May I add that I do not think it can be put against me that I have any academic view against nationalisation? I was happy to be associated with the biggest scheme of nationalisation this country ever had, the Shannon scheme. It was very definitely condemned by people who thought it was a mad scheme from the financial angle and that the whole credit of the country was being seriously mortgaged by what was described as "a hare-brained scheme". The people who described it in that way have at least learned to know better even if they do not say anything different.
I have been asked also about social security schemes. I welcome every opportunity in this House or any House or at any public meeting to get a point of view displayed with regard to social security. At the moment there is a certain amount of propaganda that a White Paper on social security was promised and that there has been delay in producing it. The more seriously that whole scheme is considered the greater is the likelihood of delay.
When this matter was first mooted in the Dáil it was as late as the month of March, 1947. The Minister who was then in charge of the matter, Dr. Ryan, spoke in the following terms in Dáil Éireann on the 27th March, 1947. I quote from the Official Report, Volume 105, column 441 and onwards of that debate:—
"I should like to remind Deputies that there is no readymade solution available from any other country that could be applied here, because we find that our conditions are not exactly the same as they are in any other country. The problem here is more difficult, for one reason or another, because of the general upset with regard to distribution of population, distribution of employment and so on, and, in common with other countries, we have the aftermath of the war to deal with, so that I am not, therefore, in a position to make any detailed statement on future policy with regard to social services unless to say, as I said before, that I should like to see a unified scheme under which we could insure a person against sickness, unemployment, old age, widowhood of his wife and, perhaps, against a large family; I should like to see as many of these as possible being brought into one unified scheme which will be dealt with by one card and one stamp for each period of a week or whatever it might be, and dealt with by one official or agent at the field end and centrally through the one fund, and through the one system of filing, and so on."
That is the aim which he said then they had in view. That was a mere unification of services. There is no question there of any vast extension of social services—just a mere unification. The object was not so much to bring in the whole mass of the population under social security schemes as to save the expense in administration in having separate schemes operating under different Departments. Dr. Ryan then went on to say that he was personally very much in favour of a contributory scheme for all these various items but that it would be a difficult problem to draw up a contributory scheme for the greater part of the population because a big part of the population are not working for wages. He added that it is not easy to devise a contributory scheme where people are not wage earners because it is not so easy to collect the contributions that would be due from week to week. All that was in March, 1947.
All the last Government had in mind then was, as I say, a unification of existing services—together with the phrase I have read: "Insure against a large family". That was the Fianna Fáil objective in social security. They now complain because the whole country is not brought under what some people call a "welfare system". Other people have condemned a welfare system as being a good step towards and not very far removed from a servile system. There is a good deal to be said for that point of view. It is one I uphold and will uphold hereafter. That does not mean that I am to be regarded individually, or representing the group for which I speak, as against the amalgamation of the services or even speaking or even thinking against an extension of such services. But if the services are to be extended to the point where we are all to be paying for benefits which some of us may not require, well, a good deal of thought has to be given to that matter. During a Dáil debate recently a Fianna Fáil Deputy who comes from a Border county said that he would like to have a good deal of consideration given to this matter before it was brought into legislative form. He said he derives his doubts from conversations he has had with people across the Border who were living under the social security scheme which was there. He gave as an example the case of a small farmer in County Fermanagh who had calculated that his contributions to the social security scheme in the North amounted to £16 a year. His return, so far, had been something which previously had cost him £2, free false teeth which he did not require and free spectacles which he did not need. He paid £16 for £2 worth of medicine and, of course, an enormous number of people would have to pay £16 for £2 worth of medicine if all the people were to get the free spectacles, dental treatment and so forth, that the enthusiasts of social security schemes want. Social security has been worked out very deliberately and with great attention to detail and the scheme will be produced when we as a Government feel that we have a scheme we can stand over. The pace will not be accelerated in the slightest by any niggling questions that are going on as to when the White Paper will make its appearance. It will not appear until after great thought and consideration has been given to it.
I have been told that, as a result of action by the present Government, unemployment has increased in the Gaeltacht areas and in that connection the matter of hand-won turf has again been brought into the picture. I have so many quotations about hand-won turf, and about what was intended, that I despair of getting a simple one to bring before the minds of Senators what was intended by the last Government. Possibly, at least, this will show the mentality there was around the middle of 1947. Deputy Lemass is reported in theIrish Times of the 22nd July, 1947, as saying, in the course of a speech: “This year the bulk of their production would be hand-won. It was, however, the last year of hand-won turf for industrial purposes and retail sale in eastern areas. At least, so they hoped.” That is borne out by other documentation. That is borne out by all the matter disclosed on the files. Hand-won turf was coming to an end except in areas where there was always hand-won turf and where it should have been—where, by tradition, the people cut it and used it and where, now and again, the people sold a bit of it. That situation ought to develop again and we ought to get back to normal. A suggestion has been made here—it was put in a more, precise way here than I ever heard it before — that one should prevent the importation of coal of any type into Connacht. I should like to have a little bit of a tour through the area of Connacht to see how well that suggestion would be received among certain of the people who make a livelihood out of hand-won turf. It might go down all right, but amongst the people who would have to use and be compelled to use hand-won turf and nothing else there might not be exactly the same enthusiasm as is alleged here about it.
It is also said that the road grants are a great source of complaint in regard to the Gaeltacht and other areas. It will take, I suppose, many repetitions to get this matter clear but I suppose I am entitled to say this for at least the third time. There was never any promise, in fact the whole of the statements went to the contrary, that road grants would be continued on anything like the scale on which they were given in 1946-7 and 1947-8. The late Minister for Local Government went into great detail in connection with this matter in Dáil Éireann on the 23rd February, 1949, when there was a motion in that House with regard to these road grants. The situation as he outlined it is easy to understand. For a quarter of a century the roads in this country have been financed out of the Road Fund. That is the only source out of which finances came. In fact, from time to time, the moneys in the Road Fund were raided by Governments. I raided it last year and again this year. I am following a precedent Fianna Fáil had and they can say they were following a precedent which Mr. Cosgrave's Government gave. However, the Road Fund was sufficient to supply all the finances that the making and the keeping of roads here required and to provide a little bit for the State when the Central Fund was in need.
During the war, first of all the same amount of money was not coming into the Road Fund because the same number of motor vehicles were not travelling the roads. The roads did not require the same amount of maintenance and they did not get it. Again, there was a lack of materials for rebuilding, constructing and maintaining the roads. Therefore the same amount was not spent as had been spent in pre-war years. Even though the fund was depleted to some extent, still it mounted up until towards the end of the war there was a fair amount of money left in it.
It was recognised that a good deal of damage had been done to the roads during the war years on account of turf lorries and other unusual traffic. It was also calculated that if there was not heavy expenditure on the restoration of the roads for a yearly period after the war, the roads would have to be reconstructed later at a very heavy cost. It was therefore decided to carry out a reconstruction and maintenance programme on a sort of capital costs basis and that it should be done by moneys contributed from the Road Fund. It was definitely started for a year only and when the point was first taken up by the then Minister for Local Government his colleague, the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Aiken, expressed his dislike of the idea of making any grants for county roads and his sanction for road restoration grants for either main or county roads was given on the strict understanding that the revised basis of allocation as between the Road Fund and the rates would apply for one financial year only. When an effort was made to have a similar grant operated for a second year, it was strenously resisted by the then Minister for Finance to such an extent that the programme was very considerably delayed and local authorities were faced with great difficulties because of the delay that Deputy Aiken, the Minister for Finance, had imposed on the whole programme.
After two years, the approach was to the critical period early in 1948. A political situation that I need not go into had developed at that time. The late Government were anxious to appear in a good light before the local authorities, so a new proposal was made to have a third year's "go" by way of extra grants for the roads. The Minister for Finance, however, in his office was not a politician and he expressed astonishment at the new proposal. He wrote a rather brusque letter reminding the then Minister for Local Government that the special grants had only been reluctantly agreed to for the year then current and that that was an extension of the original programme. However, a few days before the last Government left office they came to the conclusion that they should make an arrangement about the roads. They decided to make a grant, but the one thing that follows a Government decision, namely, the provivision of the money, did not follow. That was left over to a later date.
If the last Government had been reelected they would have made their plans and they would presumably have duly informed local authorities eventually but they took the unusual procedure of telling them by telegram that the programme should go ahead. That was about a week before they left office. The Minister for Finance, however, left behind him in his office a letter to the Minister for Local Government, from which I should like to give the following quotation:—
"The position should be faced that grants on the existing scale cannot be continued and that the rate at which new commitments in respect of road maintenance can be undertaken must be accommodated to the resources of the Road Fund and of the local authority."