I welcome this Bill for the further development of a great natural resource of this country. I hope that the lapse of time between the First Stage and this Second Reading, which is exactly 12 months, has not hampered the board in its activities.
It might be well, at the outset, to try to clear some of the mist that has surrounded the activities of the board arising out of the emergency. From time to time one hears very serious comment on the failure of the board to be in a position to handle the production of turf that was imperative during the emergency. That comment is most unfair, because, if we consider the original purpose for the establishment of the board, we find that it was set up as a long-term policy. As the Parliamentary Secretary has pointed out, the development of our bogs, particularly drainage, must inevitably take a long time before actual production takes place.
Many schemes have been tried by Bord na Móna and the Turf Development Board to make turf available as a fuel throughout the country. One of the most successful efforts was the organisation of co-operative societies. However, with the advent of the emergency and the taking over of production of turf for the national pool by county councils, the society seemed to fall away. That was a great pity.
If we are to develop turf as a fuel for consumption by our people, steps must be taken to make it available to the people, to make it available at a cheap price and in such a manner that it will be as convenient to purchase turf as it would be to purchase coal.
There are many difficulties in the way. The first great difficulty is that of marketing. There is no provision for that and, as far as I can see, Bord na Móna has not given consideration to this problem. We know from experience of the emergency that coal merchants in general were very reluctant to handle turf. The greater part of the difficulty and complaint in regard to bad and wet turf and the necessity for building ricks of turf in the Park was to my mind due to the fact that the coal merchants were not prepared to co-operate as they should in the distribution, handling and storage of turf.
I could never see the purpose of taking turf from the country to the Park, or any place else, and then having the coal merchants acting as distributors. If coal had been made available by the British Mining Company at that time and if the coal merchants had been informed that a certain quantity of it would be landed at the port of Dublin within a reasonable time, I feel sure that the coal merchants would have made an all-out effort to secure storage for it. They made no effort whatsoever to store turf and, as a result, it had to be ricked in the Park, which involved extra handling, which turf, particularly hand-won turf, is not able to stand up to.
That is the first and most essential problem to which Bord na Móna should direct attention, particularly in the event of an emergency. Already we see that there is grave danger that this country will not be in a position to secure supplies of coal at the present rate from the British Mining Board and that steps are being taken to secure that supply abroad. If further difficulties should be created in Europe, it is possible that supplies of coal will not be available at all. In that event, steps should be taken to ensure that we will not be in the same position as we were in during the last emergency.
If coal merchants are not prepared to co-operate in the handling of turf, it is up to Bord na Móna to devise some method of marketing it themselves. The difficulties that arose in the last emergency in Dublin City were experienced in every town and city in the country. While turf was available in the bogs, the merchants were reluctant to purchase and to store it over the winter months as they would purchase coal in the ordinary way. I do not think that arose from the fact that they had not sufficient profit from turf. I think the margin of profit allowed was reasonable enough. In that connection, another mistake which contributed in no small way to abuse was the purchase of turf by weight. I know that in the greater part of the country before the emergency turf was never purchased by weight but rather by measure and by quality. If that system had been adopted during the emergency I think we would have had less complaints as regards the quality of the turf, even in the City of Dublin. There was an inducement there to lorry owners and to all those taking turf from the country to act unscrupulously. The more weight they had in their lorry the greater advantage it was to themselves and that, I submit, contributed to much of the abuse.
The sudden decision of the Government in 1948 to suspend the hand-won turf scheme was unfortunate and it is having its effects to-day. When the Parliamentary Secretary informs the House of the difficulties which Bord na Móna are experiencing in securing the number of workers which they require, we must remember that one of the contributory causes in that connection was the sudden suspension of the hand-won turf scheme some two and a half years ago.
As the House is aware, provision was made for a special allowance during the winter months to keep those people in this country so that they would be available for the cutting of the supply of turf during the turf season. When, all of a sudden, they were informed that this work was no longer being continued, they had only one alternative. There was no work available to them in their particular districts, and they had to leave the country. If we are now experiencing difficulty in recruiting labour of that type I submit that that sudden suspension of the hand-won turf scheme by the Government is one of the major reasons for it. I realise that it would not be possible to continue in production at the rate that operated during the emergency, but I submit that the change over from hand-won turf to machine-won turf should have been introduced gradually. An attempt was made in that connection the following year, but it would be unreasonable to expect that workers—and particularly the type of worker who is depending on work in the bog—will wait over to see what will happen in a year or two. That change over took place in many districts. I think that in County Galway alone machinery was put into operation in some 34 bogs and, this year, the whole 34 machines were stopped working. The same applies to Mayo, Limerick and Kerry. At a time when we should be pushing forward as fast as we can with the production of machine-won turf we find that there is an order to suspend the production of machine-won turf. It cannot be said that the reason for that decision was that the workers were not there, because I find that Deputy Patrick Browne, who is a member of the Government Party, speaking on the matter in the Dáil on the Vote for the Office of Public Works, urged the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance to put forward some schemes immediately in the particular areas in County Mayo where the machine-won turf schemes had been suspended, as there is a terrible amount of unemployment there at present. The reason put forward for the suspension of these schemes was that Bord na Móna had a certain amount of turf on its hands but could not find a market for it within a particular radius of the bogs. Here again, that is due to the attitude of the Government, or what was accepted as the attitude of the Government, to turf production as a whole.
Prior to the emergency every encouragement was given to our local authorities—as a matter of fact, one might almost term it compulsion—to use native fuel. That was as it should be. Encouragement and every facility to do so was also given to the ordinary householder. In the White Paper which was issued in 1945 or 1946 it was set out that grants for new houses and so forth would be made available, particularly in the turf areas or in and around the turf counties, only where facilities would be provided for the use of turf. I have heard many complaints and, in fact, one large merchant here in Dublin has told me that he cannot get a continuous supply of machine-won turf. If he sends his lorries to Clonsast sometimes they come back empty and at other times they have to take their place in a queue and wait a considerable length of time before they can get their supply. That is proof that there is a market, particularly for the machine-won turf. It is suggested that lack of foresight and lack of organisation—particularly lack of some marketing organisation—is responsible for the failure to find a market for the machine-won turf and that operations have, therefore, closed down in so many bogs.
The next difficulty in regard to turf development in general is that the bogs which are suitable for development by machinery are so far removed from the centres of population that it is very difficult—particularly when the work is only of a seasonal nature—to get workers to travel long distances or even to go into hostels or avail of any other provision that may be made for them. As I say, in general the work is only of a seasonal nature and, while it might be possible to carry on the work of making drains and so forth during the winter months, the remuneration for that type of work is not as great as it is for the production of turf itself. It is obvious, therefore, that there are obstacles in that respect.
An attempt was made, I think, in various counties, and in our own county, to get the county council to build labourers' cottages for these workers. Naturally enough, any county council has an objection. They say: "Well, if a particular firm or, particularly, a Government organisation wants to house its workers they should make provision to erect these houses themselves." I am glad to see that provision is made in this Bill for that purpose. In the meantime, however, some more effective steps will have to be taken if we are going to develop turf production as it should be developed, as it can be developed and as it may be very essential to develop it in the near future.
Although it has not a direct connection with this Bill, I think we should not altogether overlook the importance of continuing the encouragement of the hand-won turf industry. We should do everything possible to encourage the production of hand-won turf and we should, particularly, encourage those small farmers whose income was greatly increased during the war years as a result of the sale of hand-won turf to remain in production until such time as the various bogs may be taken over and the work done by machinery. I also suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary and the board that it might be a good idea if the machines which the board now have lying idle were either rented or sold to societies or individuals who might be prepared and, perhaps, even in a better position to do so than the board to carry on the production of turf by machinery in some of the smaller bogs. I am sure it would be possible to get a number of people to co-operate and to rent one or more of these machines and continue in production. It might be no harm at all, if, side by side with the Government organisation, some private concern were to take part in the work. That might, possibly, show Bord na Móna how the job can be done more efficiently.
I was glad to see in the annual report, and I was glad also to hear the statement made to-day by the Parliamentary Secretary, that the generating station at Portarlington has been such a success. When the Bill making provision for this experiment was before the House, many Senators were doubtful as to the advisability of going forward with the proposal. It was then suggested by some Senators that the project had not even the approval of the Electricity Supply Board. I do not know how true that suggestion was. However, we are glad to see now that it has been so successful. It will be an encouragement to the board to go ahead with other stations of the kind.
I was glad also to see that the peat moss industry has been such a success and, while it is very important to encourage its export for dollar purposes, I think the board might also direct some attention towards encouraging its use among our farmers. It would be a very good thing to have a market at home for periods when it may not be possible to export the material for the purpose of getting in dollars.
I think the target set in relation to the production of briquettes is rather small. These briquettes are very useful and they commend themselves, particularly in the towns and cities. The energies of the board should be directed towards a greater production.
The Parliamentary Secretary pointed out the difficulties experienced by the board with respect to securing machinery. On another Bill we drew the attention of the Minister for Industry and Commerce to the importance of encouraging the development of the heavy engineering industry. It was regrettable to see, when steps were being taken by the former Board of Córas Iompair Éireann to develop that industry, that the whole scheme was, to use words that are very much in use at the present time, put in abeyance. I would like an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that at the earliest possible moment the heavy engineering industry will be encouraged.
Senators might ask what has this to do with turf production. Well, the Parliamentary Secretary has pointed out that it has a considerable amount to do with the non-production of turf, and I think it will be agreed that progress was held up, particularly during the war years, because of lack of machinery. Indeed, were it not for the fact that the engineering works of Córas Iompair Éireann came to the rescue of Bord na Móna at the time, and were in a position to make some of the machinery necessary to carry on the work, the whole scheme would have fallen through. The Parliamentary Secretary has informed us that even at this stage there is great difficulty, on the part of Bord na Móna, in acquiring necessary machines, even on the Continent. Bord na Móna are, of course, the only people concerned in purchases of this sort. If we had the heavy industry that Córas Iompair Éireann proposed to go ahead with, I am sure they would be now in a position to supply Bord na Móna's requirements.
We would like very much to see the board pushing forward with its schemes, and they should take steps particularly to ensure that our local authorities, our Government institutions and all the people within a reasonable distance of the turf-producing areas are encouraged in every way to utilise the native product. So far as the local authorities are concerned, I would not be prepared to stop at encouraging them; they should be compelled as far as possible to utilise the native fuel rather than import coal. By using the native product we would avoid sending our turf workers over to England to mine coal. Our own people should be encouraged to use the native fuel and so keep our workers in the districts where employment is at the moment most required.