I have now to nominate Mr. J.J. Walsh for the position of Postmaster-General, or to the Ministry of the Post Office.
MINISTRY OF POST OFFICE.
I think the Dáil ought to have a statement from the Deputy proposed as Postmaster-General regarding the position in the Post Office. We are aware from the Press that there is grave trouble in the Postal Service, and up to this morning no steps had been taken by the Government to avert this trouble. We would like to have a statement as to what steps the Postmaster-General has taken to deal with, the matter.
It is a question that would require the giving of notice to the Postmaster-General.
I understand the Postmaster-General met the representatives of the Postal Staffs this morning. If notice were given in connection with this matter on Monday, I think it would be better.
The strike is due to take place to-day. It would be more desirable if we had a statement from Deputy Walsh now.
If it is the wish of the Dáil to allow Deputy Walsh to speak now, he may do so, but it is not strictly in order. Is it the desire of the Dáil?
As a mere matter of curiosity, he ought not to be asked to make a statement; but if it can contribute to the public good, he can do so.
Those are precisely the grounds I had in mind. Does Deputy Walsh desire to make a statement?
I do wish to make a statement.
The fuller the information before the Dáil the better for the Dáil surely.
In view of the probability of the whole Postal Services being dislocated, it is better to have a statement.
The Dáil agreed.
I welcome the opportunity of making a short statement in order that the Dáil may be placed in possession of the situation at the moment. I do not suppose you will expect me at this stage, in the midst of negotiations, to go back on any of the facts of the past. It would be well that the steps that have been taken this morning should be intimated to the Dáil. At the instigation of the Chairman of the Commission, Mr. Douglas, both parties to the dispute, the Department, and with the Department certain representatives of the Government on the one hand and the employees on the other, were brought together this morning, and all matters in dispute were pretty fully gone into, and this is the result. I will read a brief statement: "The Conference arranged by the Chairman of the Commission between representatives of the Government and representatives of the principal Postal Unions, took place this morning ai the Government Buildings. After discussion, the representatives of the Government made the following proposal to the representatives of the Unions: ‘The Government adheres to their position that the reductions in wages must take place, but they are willing to spread the reductions in instalments over a period of three months, the precise amount of the instalments to be settled in negotiation.' The Government further made a definite offer to carry out one-half of the total reduction now, and one-half on the 1st December. Neither the general proposal of the Government nor the definite offer of instalments was accepted by the Union representatives." There is the position at the moment. I may say that because of the fact of the Conference sitting simultaneously with this Parliament, I have not had an opportunity of consulting my colleagues, in relation to this offer; but I think I can state in advance, on their behalf, that they are prepared to consider, and I expect sanction, the advances I have offered to the Union representatives. This particular offer was made on the distinct understanding, of course, that a strike would not materialise; but I may suggest to the Government, and through the Government to the Dáil, that is an unfortunate event I do not wish at this stage to foreshadow.
The Dáil is now in possession of the material facts.
I think it is desirable to say——
There is one important point. I was listening to Deputy Walsh and he merely stated the situation, as he was asked. He did not discuss the matter, and I think this is not the time to discuss the situation.
I submit as a matter of order when we are discussing the question of approving or disapproving the re-appointment of Mr. Walsh as Postmaster-General, we are fully entitled to discuss the merits or demerits of that Deputy for that Office that he holds.
The position that faces us is a very serious one. I take it the Dáil and the country will indicate one way or another who is responsible for the situation that may develop. We know that in March (I think it was) a certain state of affairs arose over the proposed reduction of a Bonus, and there was then a threat of a strike. Certain incidents took place which led to a considerable amount of ill-will, friction, and antagonism between the parties responsible and the men concerned. I do not think I am stressing it when I say that despite all Mr. Walsh's experience in that particular service, this experience has not been sufficiently influential to overcome the disadvantages of Mr. Walsh's temperament, and even since that time one can gather there has been a continuous friction between the Staff and the Postmaster-General, and, one would almost think, a feeling of resentment, that the time was not availed of to allow the country to be deprived of its Postal Services in March last, and that there was ill-feeling, because of that, lying at the back of the Postmaster-General's brain. The opportunity arose apparently upon the publication of the report of a Commission of Inquiry into certain price increases. The publication of a certain figure was made—the figure arrived at by a Committee constituted by two or three separate Governmental Departments. The publication of that figure was accompanied by a series of tables— a mass of facts or statistics privately circulated, and only published publicly within the last couple of days.
On the issue of that figure by members of these staffs, the Postmaster-General published a statement to the effect that the issue of this figure would warrant him in cutting off the advance which had been granted by virtue of the Commission's Interim Report, and in addition to that a proportion of the bonus, according to the old arrangement with Civil Servants. The very method of presenting the ultimatum to a body of men was sufficient to rouse their antagonism. Let it be borne in mind that the Postal Servants had desired that the work of this Commission should be finished by the 1st of September. It is not their fault that the Commission's work was not finished by that date. It was by the wish of the P.M.G. that the work of the Commission was deferred. When a figure arrived at by Departmental officials was issued, the P.M.G. takes the opportunity of lunging in and saying, "Here is what you have to take by the 1st September, or clear out," because that is what is meant. In this, as in so many things, there seems to me a lack of appreciation of the mentality of men and women. For two or three generations, at least for 120 years; every popular newspaper in this country, every popular politician, every agitator, fed the people with the notion that Government statisticians are against the people and are producing figures to down the people, to get advantage of the people. We have been told from the beginning of things almost that a Government Department is anti-popular and that the officials of that Department are working against the interests of the people. Now that is a tradition, and in face of these facts we have this procedure adopted by the Government. They admit that it is desirable to take out a figure which will represent the increase in the cost of living as between July 1914, and to-day. How do they do it? They select three or four departmental officials, and when it is represented to them that it would be desirable, in the interests of confidence in the result of the inquiry, that the people who are likely to be affected should have a voice in saying how the enquiry should be conducted—what was the method adopted so that there should be some confidence in the method of enquiry? We were told cavalierly "You will be told how it is to be done when the result is reached"—exactly a replica of all the things that have been done in the past and that have been so strenuously objected to. Now the result of the enquiry is published, and I challenge any member of this Dáil to go home to his wife or his sister, or his housekeeper, and present those figures and ask her from her practical experience whether they are true or not. I am not now criticising the method of the enquiry, or even the result of the enquiry, but I am drawing attention to the method of the presentation of this figure and the evidence that was adduced in support of the figure, and the effect on the popular mind of the reading of that explanation. If you test it in the way I have suggested, you will then begin to understand how the production of such a figure has affected the Postal Servants and how it will affect the rest of the public who will be concerned. Immediately on presentation of the result of the enquiry there was an assertion that on and after a certain date there would be a decrease in wages which would wipe out all the advances that were obtained as a result of the Postal Commission plus certain other payments in respect of bonus. I submit that, on that alone, without any question of the method, the wisdom or the justice of the case, the conduct of the P.M.G. in this matter has proved him unworthy of the position. There is something in handling a man, and if a man is not fitted for handling men, it is not desirable that he should be put into a position of creating a disruption in a public Service. The claim of the Postal servants is a valid one. They contend what is to be considered in this matter is not whether the Postal Service is paying, not what people in England are willing to live upon—or starve upon—or grow luxurious upon— but what is a reasonable standard of life in Ireland for a man in the Postal Service, and what it costs to produce that standard. There is no attempt to find out by departmental enquiry what such a cost is, and there is a good deal of misconception about this particular report that was issued, but that is the fault of the people who issued it and the method of presentation. The whole question will probably arise in another form, but I am now indicting—if I may use such a word— the P.M.G. for his conduct of these negotiations, and I say, on this particular motion, that they unfit him for the position that is now proposed to be allotted to him.
Deputy Johnson made a number of general charges against the P.M.G., but you will notice that he did not make one single specific charge— not one. He complained about his temperament, about his way of handling men, and a number of generalities of that sort, but he did not give a specific instance.
May I point out that we were not dealing with postal questions. We were dealing with the fitness of the P.M.G.
And as against that may I point out that while he indulged in a number of generalities, he never gave a single specific instance of either discourtesy or incompetence against the P.M.G. It is no harm that the Dáil should know just a few facts about this particular dispute. I will not go into it at any great length. I would like just vo say a few things which would perhaps make the issues a little clearer than they are at present. This cost of living figure was attacked. It was stated it was found by a Departmental Committee. So it was, but the cost of living figure in England—the cost of living figure that operated here for years—was found by a Departmental Committee, and there was not a single attack on it, from that point of view, not a protest. It is only when an Irish Departmental Committee finds the figure that attacks are made. That is rather peculiar. If I may say it without any disrespect, it is a little like the slave-mind. An Irish Department is as well able to find the figure as an English Department, and if an English Department was entitled to find the cost of living figure an Irish Department is entitled to find it in exactly the same way. Now criticisms of this figure which come on the merits of the case are welcomed, welcomed by the Department that found it. They will consider any criticisms; they will receive any evidence which shows that the figures are wrong. We have not got any. Again, Mr. Johnson was not specific on that point. He said generally that the method was all right, but he suggested generally, at the same time, that there was something wrong in the whole thing. Any specific mistake, any evidence that anyone likes to bring forward is welcome and will get due weight by the Ministry of Economics that found the figure. That figure was found, and it was found at 90; the English figure is 85.
I do not think the Dáil should go into a discussion of this figure. What is under discussion is the nomination of Deputy J. J. Walsh for the position of P.M.G. As I understood Deputy Johnson's remarks, they were directed towards the temperamental unfitness of Mr. J. J. Walsh for his position Whether the House can discuss or cannot discuss Mr. J. J. Walsh's temperament I am not quite clear, but I do not want the House now to begin a discussion on this question, because if a Minister or any Deputy begins it now we may have appeals to continue it, and we cannot discuss the cost of living figure in any reasonable time this afternoon with regard to our general position. I think, therefore, there should be a discussion on the fitness or unfitness of Mr. J. J. Walsh for the specific position. When people begin to talk about 85 or 90 we are lost. I therefore suggest that the discussion should not go on, on the lines that the Minister is now following.
That is my own view. The reason I mentioned these matters was because they were raised by Mr. Johnson.
What was raised by Mr. Johnson was that Mr. Walsh did not do the thing in the right way.
There was a little more. I think he got in a great deal.
I quite agree, but this is not the proper time to discuss the details of this dispute. I would only say this: In this dispute the Government applied the figure found by the Irish Department. In order to give the Postal Officials every chance to meet the cost entailed they agreed to spread it over a certain period, which is a concession the English Government did not make. It is a concession that is not made in the North of Ireland, and I think it puts the P.M.G. absolutely right in this dispute.
I would like to say a word or two in this matter, as I happen to have a special knowledge with regard to the position in the Post Office. As a result of the dispute which arose last March a Commission was appointed and that Commission issued an interim report about the 15th May, and they recommended that certain temporary increases to the Postal Staff should operate until the Irish cost of living was agreed upon, or until an official report of the Commission was issued. Now there is special significance attached to this phrase "agreed upon."
Mr. O'Connell, we are not going to discuss what the Postal Commission mean by 85 and 90—by particular phrases. This matter will be fully ventilated later, but it is obviously most contentious. I think Deputy O'Connell will agree with me that this discussion cannot go on.
I think you might put the question.
The question before the Dáil is whether the nomination of Mr. J.J. Walsh as Postmaster-General is approved?
I have to say that people have been suspended from their work for alleged conspiracy with people other than those who supported the Government—those who supported the irregular troops. I know of a case in Carlow of a Mr. Kane. I want to know if those men have been proved guilty of any charge, and what is the reason of their suspension? Was it because they might have differed from the P.M.G., or taken a rather active part in the negotiations prior to the strike or attempted strike last March, or had it any bearing with the action taken by those postal workers in support of the Labour Candidates at the recent election?
The Deputy is strictly not entitled to ask that question.
If the Deputy gives notice, I certainly will answer the question.
The Deputy is out of order. He must give notice. I take it for specific reasons you disapprove of Mr. J. J. Walsh as P.M.G. The question will now be put as to the approval of the nomination of Mr. J. J. Walsh as Postmaster-General.
The nomination was approved.