Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 9 Jun 1926

Vol. 16 No. 7


Motion made:—
Go ndeontar suim ná raghaidh thar £36,211 chun slánuithe na suime is gá chun íoctha an Mhuirir a thiocfidh chun bheith iníoctha i rith na bliana dar críoch an 31adh lá de Mhárta, 1927, chun Tuarastail agus Costaisí Oifig an Aire Iascaigh.
That a sum not exceeding £36,211 be granted to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1927, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Minister for Fisheries.
Debate resumed.

I move to reduce sub-head F by £10,000. The Minister gave us a fairly exhaustive account of the present position of the rural industries carried on under his Department. He gave us one or two assurances, which I welcome, but I cannot help thinking that a little more detailed and exhaustive inquiry into the present condition of those industries may be a good thing and may lead to a direction from the Dáil to the Minister as to the policy he is to pursue in connection therewith. It will not, I think, be in any material degree different from the policy which he intends to pursue, but it may induce him to adopt that policy more quickly and possibly more drastically. These rural industries are an inheritance from the Congested Districts Board. I do not quite know why they were transferred to the Minister for Fisheries. But they were transferred, and it is opportune to look into their history for a few minutes. Originally, the Congested Districts Board did not run industries of any kind. Mr. Micks, in his account of the Congested Districts Board, says the principle was laid down that ownership or managership of any industrial enterprise would not be undertaken. That rule was subsequently departed from, but I believe it was a sound principle. The object can be attained without the necessity of having a Government Department for rural industries at all. What the Congested Districts Board did in its early days was to make grants of money to places where they believed industries could be successfully set up. In one case—that of the tweed manufactory at Foxford—that policy was eminently successful. Now, we have the Trade Loans Act, which would provide for that without the need for the Department under the Minister at all.

Gradually, as time went on, there was a very considerable development of rural industries under the C.D.B. That was almost entirely due to the work of two very remarkable men—the late Mr. W.J.D. Walker, whose death we all regret, and Mr. Gilbert Phelan, who, in turn, were in special charge of the Industries Department. Mr. Walker was a man of business knowledge and training and, as Mr. Micks states, the Board very soon discovered that commercial knowledge and training are essential to the success of an undertaking in the hands of the State. He began by organising the industries and by assisting them with loans. His successor, Mr. Gilbert Phelan, was a man of great enterprise. He was always watching the markets of the world, and he was accustomed to pay frequent visits to London, Manchester, Paris and other centres where the goods produced by these industries were marketed. As a result, he was able to attain considerable success, though he had also some failures. A remarkable instance of his capacity was the way in which—when the outbreak of the war made many of the goods produced by the rural industries in congested districts quite unsaleable, because they were luxuries—Mr. Phelan discovered that there was a shortage of buttons for ladies' clothes. There was a shortage of bone and celluloid buttons, and he made an industry by covering little bits of wood and cardboard with various colours of silk and other materials, which filled the want for the time. That, of course, had to be abandoned at the close of the war.

So far as I can discover, there is nobody in the Minister's Department in the position that Mr. Walker and Mr. Phelan occupied. There is no directing head or general staff for this work. The technical and outdoor staff of the Ministry, so far as I can see, is connected entirely with fisheries. I am very doubtful as to whether a Government Department can carry on industries at all, but I am quite sure that it cannot when it has not what I call a general staff. The result is that when an industry is established it is regarded as a thing that must be carried on. Somebody with a salary will naturally carry it on until they are told not to do so. The result might be that you would have them going on producing goods that would be unsaleable and unsuitable to the times. Deputy McGoldrick yesterday spoke about lace-making. The people are not wearing lace. I remember the time when every lady in evening dress wore a large amount of lace. But lace is not used now with ladies' dresses. Money spent on lace-making is, to a large extent, money wasted, owing to the change of fashion and also owing to the fact that the Japanese have learned to produce lace and can produce it more cheaply than we can. They can under-cut us in the markets. The same thing applies in the case of homespuns and tweeds. We are going on making our homespuns in the old way, regardless of the fact that nobody in the United States will wear heavy suits, because their houses are all steel-sheeted, and they wear heavy overcoats when they go out.

Unless you have some directing intelligence—and it would be unfair to expect the Minister to give up all his directing intelligence to rural industries, when he has to attend to fisheries —you will lose money on these industries. Look at the accounts and you will see that we are losing money. One would be glad of more detailed information regarding the position of these industries. The Minister gave us the number of them yesterday, but I should like to know the number of person employed and the total turnover. Looking at the Estimate, we have, on one side, as an Appropriation in-Aid, "Receipts from rural industries, £17,470." We may put that on the credit side. On the debit side you have, omitting any item for wages or capital charges—Purchase of raw material, £16,000; postage for finished articles, £1,000; travelling expenses to markets—what you might call commercial travelling charges—£300, and freight and carriage, £100. That is, £17,400 as against £17,470.

Therefore the total profit of these industries, so far as can be judged from this Estimate, to meet all items, wages, capital charges, repairs to plant, rents, rates, and so on, is £70 a year. Obviously that is not a business proposition. It could only be justified on the ground either of exceptional need or because of the fact that the industries are being carried through their most difficult and struggling years. But some of these industries have been carried on for nearly ten years. The Galway toy industry, to which the Minister referred, is one. That has apparently been run, year after year, at a loss, and it has now been decided to close it down. If there is no prospect of expansion in that toy factory now, I do not believe that there was any chance two years ago. I believe it would have been desirable to cut the losses sooner. But unless you have some directing intelligence applied to this question you will never know what is the right time to cut your losses. The Comptroller and Auditor-General has commented on some of the glove industries showing certain shortages. One glove industry cost £550, and no sales appear to have been made during the financial year.

I do not think you are going to get any rural industries of value to the country on those lines. I think the Minister is partly persuaded to that himself, from what he said yesterday, but I do suggest to the Dáil that if we have this money to spend, it would be better spent for fishery purposes and for purposes allied to fishery purposes, within the congested districts, than in this manner. The kelp industry is an industry we ought to assist, because it will employ the fishermen on days when they cannot go out to sea or when the fish are not there. I think if we are going to promote industries they ought to be promoted by one Department, and that is the Department of Industry and Commerce. The present situation is that where there might be trade enough for one industry you might have the Minister for Fisheries subsidising one industry in the congested districts and the Minister for Industry and Commerce giving a Trades Loan guarantee to another industry in another part of the country, with the two industries set up in competition with each other and cutting each others throats. As a matter of fact, the functions of the Minister for Fisheries, under Section 1 of the Ministers and Secretaries Act, is "Fisheries and all industries connected with or auxiliary to the same." I do not quite know how, except on the grounds of established practice, the making of toy rocking-horses could be described as auxiliary to fisheries.


I think they are land horses. If you put them into the sea I think they would be fish out of water, or vice versa. I suggest this amendment on two grounds. One is that I think the sooner the connection of the Minister for Fisheries with these industries is curtailed the better, and the second is that he ought to have all the money we can spare for fishery development, because I believe that will yield very much more profitable and advantageous results.

I have listened with great interest, not unmixed with a considerable amount of amazement, to Deputy Cooper's remarks. I do not believe for one moment that we can or should take the returns from the Department of Fisheries for last year as any standard by which to measure the wisdom or unwisdom of pursuing this policy. Some of these industries were established some time ago and were on the road to becoming useful, but after the lapse of a certain period they have fallen away. The proposal now is to revive them, and the necessity for their revival is obvious to everyone. I do not for one minute admit that the figures taken from last year's returns are the figures that we should be guided by to any extent. If they were taken on that basis they would, of course, be figures which obviously no business man could stand over, if what they show was to be taken as the result of continuity in the efforts that are being made towards putting these industries on some kind of proper foundation.

Deputy Cooper alleges that these industries are not allied to the fishing industry. I do not agree. I think they are very closely allied, and that they are the only industries in the areas where fishing is largely a supplementary industry, that can be properly said to be allied with fishing. They are a real necessity for the communities that are more or less bound up with the development of fishing, in order that they may be enabled to live at home. Consequently I believe that the Minister, from the very nature of his duties and the duties of his Department, ought to be more conversant with the circumstances and with the best methods to pursue for the development of these industries to put them on a proper basis. The very nature of his business brings him into contact with the areas where these industries must of necessity be put in the way of becoming a success, and that they can be a success I have not the slightest doubt.

Deputy Cooper talked about lace-making having given way to other forms of rural industries. I believe that is so to a certain extent, but that is not the only thing that can be done. It is only one of the sidelines, and it is only carried on to a small extent. The rest of the industries that have already been mentioned are a good deal more important. The Deputy also condemned the system by which the Minister for Industry and Commerce might give a Trades Loan Guarantee, by means of which a rival society might be set up in competition with that which the Minister for Fisheries is supporting and nurturing. I do not think that there is any danger or likelihood of such a thing, and I think that that portion of his argument is fantastic. I believe that the revival of these rural industries should be supported with such funds as can reasonably be placed at the disposal of the Minister, and I think that he will be able to do a good deal in the revival of these industries. He will not be able to do enough with the money he is receiving. But to take any money away form these industries would be absurd. If we cannot give the Minister some more money, I think we should on no account take anything from him.

With the opening remarks of Deputy Cooper I would like to concur, that is, in the tribute he paid to the two former officials of the Congested Districts Board. I am perhaps more conversant with the work of Mr. Phelan than with that of Mr. Walker. I join with the Deputy in saying that these men did extraordinary work in their day for these industries. The Deputy made great play, perhaps with a great deal of truth, on the statement that a State Department cannot hope to run industries of this kind from headquarters without a technical head, without a person who has a commercial instinct and the proper commercial training required for these industries. If the Deputy had been present he would have heard me mention in connection with rural industries that I was seeking from the Department of Finance permission to appoint an industrial inspector who would have that technical knowledge, who would have knowledge not only of the changing fashions in the different places where we get our markets, but who would also have the technical knowledge of dyeing and weaving, which is necessary if we are to bring back the Donegal homespuns to the market.

I think I remember stating—if I did not it was an omission, because I had it in my notes—the number of persons who are employed in these industries. There are, roughly, about 600 girls and 30 men and boys employed in them. They do not earn a livelihood in them, but a partial livelihood, to help to support themselves and their families. I grant that to a certain extent money is being lost by the State on this matter, but I think that Deputy Cooper's comparison between the Appropriations-in-Aid and the outlay is not quite correct, because even though we buy, say, £16,000 worth of raw material this year, we may not get the money from the products of that until next year, and that will happen year after year. It is hardly fair, therefore, to call that difference a loss. Deputy Cooper also referred to the glove industry. Very soon after we took over, and when this business was examined, the industry was immediately closed down. There was a loss of £550, which was due to the wages of the staff, pending consideration as to what our decision should be.

As to these industries being under my Department, I need not say, of course, that it was not my seeking; but I think that it was in essence the one Department that could really deal with it. We were concerned with these areas, and we took over a great many of the staff of the Congested Districts Board, which had been dealing with these industries. The Secretary of the Department is a man who had been Chief Clerk of the Congested Districts Board for a considerable number of years, and who, I should say, undoubtedly more than any other official in the State, knew the workings of these industries. That influenced the decision of the Government to put these industries under the Fisheries Department. Deputy Cooper said that it would be well that the money spent on these should be transferred to fisheries, or to industries which were closely allied to fishing, like the kelp industry. The kelp industry does not require any subsidy. It is growing from private enterprise, and the only way in which we help that private enterprise is to try to convince the people engaged in making the kelp to produce an article that is marketable. The makers do not ask for a subsidy, and there is no need for a subsidy.

I think Deputy Cooper's reference to the Trade Loans was quite aptly answered by Deputy McGoldrick. I do not believe that these industries would fulfil the conditions which would enable them to get loans under the Trade Loans (Guarantee) Act, and as for the Department of Industry and Commerce granting loans to competitors in same line, I do not believe that such a thing has arisen or is within the bounds of possibility.

Although I do not like to be interpreted by other people, I think that he gave a rather fair interpretation of my own particular outlook on this matter. I said yesterday that if any one of these became absolutely hopeless so that it would at no time become self-supporting, it should be abandoned. We have closed down some of these on that account. Even though we do lose a little, there are compensating advantages. I believe that the training that the girls who are engaged in these industries get is of very great value, not only to themselves but to the area in which they live. I know, as a matter of fact, that many a bleak home has been brightened by the earnings of these girls, which range from ten shillings and fifteen shillings a week to one pound and thirty shillings a week in the case of more competent girls. These girls are educated technically in the working of the machines, and they are educated generally from the social point of view, and if it happened, as it happened in the last few years, owing to the slump in the market, that they have to emigrate, they emigrate, at least, with advantages which they would not, otherwise, have had. At this stage I think it would be fantastic to reduce this sum. I do not ask for an increase as I think it would also be fantastic to ask for an increase, but I think, at least, that it must be given a trial, especially in the light of the hope that I have of centralising the selling here in Dublin, by means of a central depôt, and of being allowed to employ, if I can find such a person, a competent industrial inspector.

Deputy McGoldrick refuses to accept the figures given in the Estimates. I can only say that I do not know where else to look for those figures.

I was referring to last year.

The figures last year were not given in detail but were given under rough headings. This is the first year that an opportunity has really been given of examining the matter. It may be and I gather from the Minister that it is the case, that the figures are misleading. I do not mean misleading in a wrong sense—in the sense that they do not show the accumulation of raw material to be used up. I thought that the raw material would go on from year to year and that there would be a certain amount carried over at the end of the year. The Minister said one thing which I must correct. He said that he is not asking for an increase in this Vote. He is asking for what at first sight looks like an increase of £500, but, taking the Appropriation-in-Aid into account, there is a reduction of about £3,000.

When I said that I was not asking for an increase I was not referring to the Vote this year as against last year, but was referring to Deputy McGoldrick's line of argument when he said that instead of decreasing the Vote by £10,000, it should be increased. I said that to ask for a decrease would be fantastic, and that to ask for an increase in the Vote would be equally fantastic.

I want it to be clear that this is, in fact, an increasing charge, and, unless steps are taken to give the Minister a staff which will enable him to organise the Department properly, it will continue to be an increasing charge. We are spending £13,000 to employ 630 people. You cannot go on doing that on that scale. From the point of view of economic administration, you cannot allow that to go unchecked, but I think if the Minister does what he suggested should be done, namely, to appoint an industrial inspector—not a man who has been a failure in commerce, but one who is something of a crusader, something of an enthusiast—he may have reasonable hopes of reducing the charge. I do not want to weaken his case as against the Minister for Finance, as it was the opinion of the Dáil yesterday that the Minister for Fisheries was the good fairy and the Minister for Finance the bad one. If we reduce this Vote, the Minister for Finance will say that there is only a small sum available, and, therefore, you cannot appoint an industrial inspector. Therefore, I ask the leave of the Dáil to withdraw my motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
Question put and agreed to.