During the debate yesterday reference was made to the desirability of developing our natural resources. These references came from the Government Benches. I was very glad to hear that they fully supported that idea. I can well remember that in the times before we secured freedom here the Irish people looked forward to the day when an Irish Parliament would develop the natural resources of the country for the benefit of the people. Very much good work has been done in that direction. In many spheres the natural resources have been developed. Of course, we have met with many disappointments. I remember that when we were young we believed that we had inexhaustible mineral resources here which were being neglected because the country was being ruled from abroad. It was a disappointment to us to find that these resources were not anything up to what we had expected.
At the same time, since we have had our own Parliament, there are resources which have not been developed but which have been neglected, and I wish to refer this evening to the slate rock deposit. I remember that during the British occupation many of the slate quarries were in production, and even for some years afterwards, but for several years now, with very rare exceptions, these deposits are derelict. In the part of the country I come from, there were two famous quarries near Aghenny, Carrick-on-Suir, which produced slate that was renowned throughout Europe and certainly throughout Ireland. These quarries are now derelict. One of them was worked up to 15 or 16 years ago, and the other has not been worked during the past 40 years. The one I am mainly concerned with is the Victoria quarry, which I understand contains the finest slate rock which could be made available anywhere. It was closed not because of want of a market or because of inferiority of the slate, but because of a dispute between the owners and the lessees about royalty fees. That quarry is now derelict, and I understand that the Department inspectors and engineers have visited the place and the reports are contradictory—one report favours a reopening of the quarry and another does not.
I believe that in that quarry and in many others throughout the country there is still plenty of slate rock which could be used to manufacture roof coverings for the many houses we are building. We know that during the past 25 years many hundreds of millions of tiles have been manufactured here and other forms of slate, asbestos slate and so on to cover the small dwellings which we have erected in such great numbers. It is most extraordinary that when the market became as great as that these quarries should be closed down.
My purpose in drawing attention to this matter this evening is to see if we could not induce the Government or a particular Department to be interested in these quarries with a view to developing them.
We are told that private enterprise should undertake such development. If it is left to private enterprise I believe it will be the next generation that will have to tackle the problem as private enterprise so far as I can gather will not undertake this work.
The geologists and engineers more or less condemn the opening of the quarries. The financiers find it I suppose much easier to invest their money in the manufacture of asbestos slate and tiles. I am told that the householders believe that the slate covered house is the better one, and that the builders agree with them. The only objection there, then, is that slate is more costly than the tiles. In the pre-war days it cost about £15 more to slate a house than to cover it with tiles. At that time there was not a constant supply of slate and I could understand any builder, because of the difficulty of getting slate, being chary of tendering for a scheme of houses where it was a condition that slate should be used.
We have established a mineral development company to explore the possibilities of mineral wealth and coal, and I understand that that company cannot undertake exploration regarding slates; but since one of the principles upon which we are all agreed is that we should develop our own natural resources and that industries, the raw material of which is abundant in this country, should be the industries to concentrate on, I believe that the Government should try at least to explore the possibilities and do some development work so that people with money might be induced to invest their money in the production of slate.
I do not think it needs much argument to convince people that slate is the best roofing material. At the Victoria quarry, slate of a standard size can be produced in great quantities. We know that slate will last a great length of time. In Carrick there is an Elizabethan building called Carrick Castle which was covered over 300 years ago with Victoria slates and these slates are still on the roof. I wonder if modern roof covering will last that long. At any rate, I believe that the people generally would prefer slates on their houses to tiles or any other method of covering. Because of that and because of the fact that we are more or less pledged to develop our own resources I think the Government should see to it that no deposit of the kind of which I spoke should be left idle when so many people are unemployed and when there is such a great demand for what could be produced in these quarries. I would appeal to the Minister to send some engineers to the localities I have mentioned and other localities in the country where slate is abundant to examine the possibilities of reopening these quarries. I am told that one report of engineers who have visited the place already would not recommend emptying the old pit, which is now filled with water, but that a new opening should be made. A survey should be made so that the people in the locality will not be blinded with false hopes forever. A public statement should then be made giving the people to understand that there are possibilities or that there are not. If we knew definitely that we might consider these deposits useless, then the people could turn their thoughts to something else and forget about slate quarries. But there is plenty of slate there of excellent quality, and the working of these quarries will give magnificent employment to quite a number of people and the products of such quarries will be used increasingly in this country for housing for our people over the next 30 years.
I would like to refer to another matter which has already been referred to by Senator S. O'Farrell. Listening to him yesterday evening, I got the idea that nobody else in the debate on the Land Bill mentioned the question of the purchase by foreigners of land in Ireland. I would like to mention that Senators Seán Hayes and Fitzsimons and myself did stress that angle on the acquisition of land. In fact, I want to repeat something I said on the Land Bill which was reported in the Irish Independent but which was omitted for some reason or another from the Official Reports. I gave an instance in that debate of an English titled person who came to County Kerry a couple of years ago and purchased a substantial holding there. After he was in the place for 12 months he purchased another holding. In between those two holdings there was a third, and at the time I was in Kerry proceedings had gone far towards the purchase of the third holding. I went on to show that while we were pássing Land Bills for the purpose of undoing the clearances of long ago a person like the man I have mentioned could come with a bank note big enough and a crow-bar and do the same work that the R.I.C., the crow-bar and the battering-ram had to do in the old days.
I wish to repeat what I asked the Minister to do on that occasion. I asked him if he had not powers to take powers to see that that type of land purchase should be discontinued in the country. I pointed out that I have not any objection to English people or other foreigners buying land here within reason, but that I had an objection to one person coming like that, competing with Irish people for the purchase of these lands, sending up prices, replacing three Irish families with one English family and, in my opinion, starting another clearance while we were going to terrific trouble trying to undo clearances.
I wish to mention borrowing and particularly something which Senator George O'Brien said yesterday. I always like to listen to the Senator when he speaks, because his speeches are all very reasoned, and for a number of reasons, but yesterday he was at pains, as far as I could judge, to explain that in order to be consistent you had to be inconsistent. That was the impression I got from listening to him, but I will read his speech just to see if that was the correct impression. My idea is that if a situation of that kind can arise it is a rather extraordinary thing. We were told long ago when we were going to school that a little learning is a dangerous thing, but if that reasoning is correct, it would seem to me that we would have to continue that quotation and say that to drink deeply is equally dangerous.
However, my attitude to borrowing is that when a Government intends to borrow moneys which will have to be repaid practically entirely out of taxation they should be very conservative because their action is going to compel future Governments to raise taxes to meet that particular borrowing. While I have not any objection in the world to Governments borrowing, I think it is a bad principle that a Government should borrow in that way, The obvious inference is that the Government will get credit for doing works by borrowing but will make future Governments pay for whatever credit they get. I think that is wrong. I believe that we are borrowing beyond our means. The fact that the Government are borrowing in the way they are borrowing simply means that they do not believe they will be the next Government, because, if they did, they would have in mind the fact that any future Government will have to pay for the money which we are raising by way of borrowing at present.