I would like to deal with General Mulcahy's suggestion that we should have considered the introduction of decimal coinage. We did consider that, but we felt that it was really a different matter. It is a matter that, even if we had already our own coinage, would meet with a certain amount of opposition and would cause a considerable amount of inconvenience. We thought that the better thing for us to do, in view of the fact that certain classes in the country have an attitude of opposition or, at any rate, entertain apprehensions about this matter—which I do not think are reasonable but which are not apprehensions to be ignored—was to have simply our own token coinage and not to deal with the question of decimalising at the present. There are difficulties in creating a decimal system that would be fairly obvious. You would have to make arrangements for certain contracts which would involve the payment of a certain number of pence, for instance. If an account were due to some contractor and that the figure was £1 2s. 1d., you would not have any coin in which to pay the exact sum of one penny, and you would have to make arrangements in your Bill for varying that.
If you made a penny the tenth of a shilling—that would be the easier way of decimalising—one of the effects would be that if a thing cost a twelfth of a shilling the public would have to pay one-tenth of a shilling, and that would be putting, in actual practice, a burden on the people for the benefit of the retailer. I do not feel that on the whole it would be desirable to do that. The issue of coinage in the twentieth of a pound, in shillings and pence does not so seriously prejudice a change in future if it were considered desirable to change because the cost of changing silver and the issuing of new silver for instance would only be about 5 per cent. of the face value. That is the cost of minting. It would not be so difficult at all to re-mint our silver if we decided to withdraw silver in circulation and issue new silver coins. In the case of bronze coins of course the percentage would be much greater, but the total cost of minting bronze coins would vary from about one-tenth. In the case of farthings it would be very high, but the amount would not be so great. It would be possible to re-issue the entire bronze coinage at a cost of about £24,000 if at some future period it were decided to decimalise it, so that there are not such very large sums involved as to tie us for ever to a non-decimal coinage.
We certainly feel that the difficulties that, on ordinary business transactions, it would give rise to at the moment, are such that we should be content to leave things as they are. Deputy Heffernan indicated that the cost of replacing worn coins would be very heavy. As a matter of fact I do not believe that the cost of replacing of worn coins would be anything at all if we take into account the coins that will be actually lost, that would be lost in drains and so on, and that would disappear from circulation. Taking these into account there would be, as a matter of fact, a small annual profit. The cost of replacing coin withdrawn from circulation is only the cost of minting, something like 5 or 6 per cent. of the face value of the coin. Coins do not become worn, if you have good coins, for a very considerable number of years. I am not prepared to say what is the average life of a coin in circulation, but it might be 20 years or perhaps a good deal more. If you assume that it is 20 years, the cost of replacing worn coins would be only one-twentieth of the face value of your total coinage for every year. No expense ought to be anticipated but a small profit, perhaps £10,000 a year, on the annual issue of coinage.
I do not agree with Deputy Thrift that there is any question of posterity going to pay. Some form of token coins will always be required. I do not see any circumstances in which, approximately, we will not have this amount of token coinage. If our population were to shrink to one million or half-a-million we might require a great deal less token coinage, and might have to call it in and pay people in full legal tender, but I do not anticipate that. Nobody has refused to believe that the new postage stamps suffice to carry a letter to its destination, and no more will anyone refuse to accept the coinage.
I think the other points raised by Deputies have been answered. I do not anticipate that there will be any trouble at all in getting people to accept the coins. I think they will be accepted with complete readiness. Currency notes were accepted, and I am quite confident that there will be no reluctance in accepting this coinage. As to people who are continually crossing the Border, I believe they will naturally use and accept both British coins and our coins indiscriminately. People are doing business on both sides of the Border, and no trouble will arise as far as they are concerned. As to the occasional traveller who comes from Liverpool to Dublin, or the man who travels occasionally from Dublin to Belfast, or somewhere on the other side of the Border, very little trouble will arise. Such a man can easily change a ten-shilling note or a pound note, and get the silver he requires any place he goes. At the present time, as Deputies are aware, if you go into a shop in England and produce an Irish bank note they do not want it, but if you are lunching on the train going from Holyhead to London, and produce an Irish bank note, no question is asked. It is accepted the same as a Treasury note, or as silver. You will find, where there is a good deal of resort, and where people are accustomed to handling the coinage of another country, that the coinage will be accepted.
I appreciate the fact that any change of this sort which might be misunderstood, or, above all, which might be misrepresented, has to be considered very carefully. As a matter of fact, this particular proposal was considered very carefully, and all sorts of people were asked for their views in writing on it. People whose views would be valuable, and who have given study to the matter, were asked for their views in writing, and precautions were taken that would not be taken normally. That sort of precaution is very desirable, but there is no use, on the other hand, in sounding the alarmist trumpet about every change that is made. There are some people who think we are faced with national disaster, and that the country is going to the dogs when anything is changed, even though the change may be something that follows very naturally, indeed, what has gone before. I think that if ever there is any panic on financial matters in this country, the panic will not be caused by anything the Government may do, or by anything in the nature of the case, but will be caused by the people who are always looking for us to do something that is unjustifiable, rash, and entirely harmful.
We were asked what was the urgency about this. I never suggested urgency. I have not asked for Standing Orders to be suspended. I have not asked for any privileges from the Ceann Comhairle in the matter. The Bill is brought in and there is no plea of urgency made. I think the questions are why should we do this thing at all; why should we not postpone it for ever; why should we make any change, asking those questions in such a way as not to come up against arguments that have been already set up in reply to those arguments that it is the natural thing to do, that it is proper that there should be an Irish coinage, and that there is a substantial sum of money to be gained in quite a proper way, in a way that is gained by every Government that has issued token coinage.