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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 14 Dec 1961

Vol. 55 No. 1

Agricultural Produce (Cereals) Bill, 1961: Second and Subsequent Stages.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Agricultural Produce (Cereals) Acts, 1933, as amended and extended by subsequent Acts, were intended to ensure as far as possible that flour consumed in this country should be milled at Irish mills from wheat grown by Irish farmers. Provision was, therefore, made in these Acts to prohibit the importation of flour from abroad except under authority of a licence granted by the Minister for Industry and Commerce. As our flour millers are obliged under the Cereals Acts to use a high proportion of high priced home-grown wheat in their grists it would be obviously unfair that they should be required to compete with imports of flour manufactured outside the State. Such imported flour is milled from foreign wheat which is available abroad at a much cheaper price and greater variety than our home-grown wheat.

The purpose of this Bill is to repeal Section 8 of the Agricultural Produce (Cereals) (Amendment) Act of 1956, so as to abolish a statutory concession which has been much abused in recent years, under which quantities of flour or wheatenmeal up to 300 lbs. in weight could, in certain circumstances, be imported without a licence.

In 1947, when flour was scarce, it became a common practice for people in the United States of America to send or bring gifts of flour to their friends in this country. To facilitate the entry of such gifts, an Emergency Powers Order was made permitting the importation of flour in quantities of up to 300 lbs. provided it was (a) carried as private effects in passengers' baggage or (b) shown to the satisfaction of the Revenue Commissioners to have been sent by a person who was not a trader dealing in flour or wheatenmeal as a gift to a person in the State. This import concession was continued in permanent legislation in Section 8 of the Agricultural Produce (Cereals) (Amendment) Act, 1956.

Representations have been made to the effect that the concession has been abused and should be withdrawn, as it is causing serious loss of trade to flour millers and retailers in this country, particularly in the County Donegal area.

To determine the justification for these complaints special surveys were carried out by the Revenue Commissioners. These indicate that unlicensed imports of flour from the Six County area increased from 1¾ tons per month in September, 1958 to 6 tons per month in March, 1959; 17 tons per month in March, 1960 and 27 tons per month in March, 1961.

In view of the increasing extent to which this concession is being used for importation of cheap flour from the Six Counties and the adverse effects which such imports will have on the flour milling industry in the State and especially in County Donegal, the Government consider that this concession should be withdrawn, by the repeal of Section 8 of the Act of 1956.

I should, perhaps, add that the differentiation in price between a sack of flour of 280 lbs. in the Six Counties and in this country is about 25/-

This Bill, and what the Minister has said in relation to it, are an example of how deceptive a title can be. The Bill is a Department of Industry and Commerce Bill, not concerned with the Department of Agriculture. It is in respect of revenue rather than any other part of the Government services. It withdraws a concession which, I think, the Minister's figures clearly prove has been abused. If imports have increased from 1¾ tons a month in 1958 to 27 tons a month in 1961, plainly, given all the circumstances, the concession ought to be withdrawn. We are therefore in agreement with the Bill, which is a very simple measure.

I know the trade unions are concerned with the effect on employment of some of their members in Donegal because of this concession. They have been pressing for some time for Ministerial action in the matter and for that reason I welcome the measure. I am glad to see that the Minister has taken action to see that a practice which was threatening employment is discontinued. I only regret that in passing this legislation we are not protecting a nationally-owned flour milling industry instead of a milling industry which is run by a foreign dominated combine.

I do not think any comments are called for from me. The only thing I can say in respect to Senator Murphy's remarks—not the last point he made but that in reference to the trade unions—is that I was hoping some other measure would come along before this in which a section could have been incorporated. Unfortunately, or fortunately, such a measure was not available and therefore this Bill had to be introduced specially.

Question put and agreed to.
Agreed to take remaining Stages today.
Bill put through Committee, reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.