The Motion which is before the House to-night could not, in my opinion, be framed in a better setting than it is at the present time. The conditions that apply all over the country with regard to local authorities, the position of the farming community, the position in respect of uncollected annuities—in fact, the general condition of the country—demand that some steps be taken—must be taken—to deal with the present state of affairs.
From time to time I have had opportunities of reading reports of various local authorities all over the country, and all I can say is that they make very sad and very doleful reading at the present time. For some time past the finger-posts have been all directed towards a state of affairs such as exists now, but I do not think that anybody anticipated that it would come so soon. I do not think that the Minister for Local Government and Public Health thought last year that he would be confronted with such a situation as that with which he finds himself confronted to-day. Last year, when local authorities were framing their estimates the Minister for Local Government and Public Health felt quite buoyant over the situation. To-day the local authorities have got notices from the Local Government Department that they must delay the rate estimate; that they are not yet in a position to make out how much of the agricultural grant will have to be deducted, and consequently they cannot make up their rates.
This Motion really only asks, in effect, that there ought to be no rates asked for during the period of the economic war. That is really what it amounts to. I think that no fairer or no more righteous request could be made, particularly if we consider the statements made by responsible people on the opposite benches before they came into power. One wonders occasionally what it was that prompted the President to make the statements he did about derating if he did not believe in it; and if he believed in it in 1932, surely to goodness it ought to be making some impression on him to-day. Personally, I think that if we had derating in this country—if we had complete derating, and if it was part of the policy of the Government and part of the system in the country that we had derating—it is quite possible that we would have to alter our local government methods. It is quite possible. I do not know, however, that that struck the President in 1932. In 1932 the President, speaking down in Kells, said:
"The farmer's burden required to be lightened, and it could be effectively done if they retained at home the £3,000,000 of land annuities which were now needlessly being sent over to England every year. Two millions of the three would give complete derating to all agricultural holdings, big and small, and to the farm buildings as well."
I wonder what became of that promise. I wonder would Deputy Corry be able to tell us about that promise. I mention Deputy Corry specially because I am going to give him special attention later on. Deputy Corry made a speech at a meeting of the Cork County Council, which was reported in the Irish Independent on April 6th, 1932. That is a long time ago. It was before Fianna Fáil had really felt the responsibilities of Government. They were just in at the time. Deputy Corry, of course, was not as well up as the President was, because, when the President got in in April, 1932, what he said was:
"We have definitely pledged ourselves that at least £2,000,000 of the £3,000,000 a year collected in land annuities will be used for the benefit of the farming industry."
That was a way out. The President was looking for a way out then, but Deputy Corry was not. Deputy Corry was reported in the Irish Independent of the 6th April, 1932, as having said, amongst other things:
"The annuities will certainly go to complete derating. Every pledge we gave is going to be honoured."
I wonder how does Deputy Corry regard that pledge to-day? Now, no matter what speech we take up at that period—whether it is Deputy Corry, whether it is the President, whether it is the Minister for Defence, whether it is an election poster—we find them all plastered over with this idea of derating. We are asking now for derating during the period of the economic war. I wonder are we going to get it. If President de Valera thought in 1932, or if Deputy Corry thought in 1932, that we could not get on without derating at a time when we were getting practically three times as much for the export of our live stock as we are getting to-day, I wonder what do we need now? We need home assistance now. We had an election poster issued in the Irish Independent. They even took advantage of that unnational paper, as they call it, the Irish Independent, and they issued an advertisement. This is the burden of that advertisement:
"With £2,000,000 of the £3,000,000 involved the farmers can be relieved completely of the rates of their holdings. Another £1,000,000 is available for the relief of taxation or for such purposes as the Dáil may determine."
If it were not a tragedy, would it not be a great joke? What did Fianna Fáil do, when they came into power, to carry out their promises of derating? How did they treat the ratepayers? What was their attitude towards them? When they came into power in 1932, what did they do? The grants which the county councils were then getting were very different from the grants they are getting now. As a matter of fact, if I take the case of my own county council it will probably give a better idea of what happened. When they came into power they threw £250,000 into the Agricultural Grant at the time. That was the first gesture. They wanted to show what they could do. They wanted to do something to justify the things they had been saying. Roscommon's share of the Agricultural Grant that year was £75,000. The following year, when Fianna Fáil had their first opportunity—their very first opportunity—of allocating the Agricultural Grant, they cut down our share in Roscommon to £61,000, and cut down every other county's share by a like amount. They reduced the Agricultural grant by a sum of £448,000. That was how Fianna Fáil kept their promises.
Let no member of the Government Party try to get away with the view that if they did not give derating and stopped a proportion of the Agricultural Grant that their predecessors were giving they halved the annuities. They did not. They doubled the annuities. Deputy Corry knows that and the Minister for Local Government and Public Health knows it. There is no use endeavouring to hide that fact. What has happened in regard to halving the annuities? How has it affected the farmers? The British say they have collected practically £5,000,000—£4,800,000 odd. That is their account of the matter. The President admitted on the adjournment debate before Christmas that the annuities were being paid to England, but against our will. It means little, whether it is against our will or not, when they have to be paid; the money is gone anyway. The net amount the farmers were responsible to England for was £3,000,000. England is now collecting £5,000,000, and, in addition, our Government demands 50 per cent. of the annuities. In spite of all that Fianna Fáil says they have halved the annuities. That is how they have been halved. They are at least double on the farmers of the country.
On March 3rd, 1932, at a time when we were living in wonderful prosperity, in comparison with to-day, one of the Fianna Fáil Deputies, Deputy Harris, had a motion at the Kildare County Council which was published in the Irish Independent of March 3rd for consideration. That was before the Fianna Fáil Party came into power. The motion set out, among other things, “the utter impossibility of the ratepayers meeting any demand for rates during the coming year.” That was in 1932. Immediately Deputy Harris found that his own people formed the Government he withdrew that motion. He was right. He knew what his men were made of even though Deputy Corry was saying that they were returned to redeem their promises. What happened all these promises? What was it that brought about the complete change of mind ? Or was it a change of mind, or only humbug, or a hoax thrown out to get votes? I wonder what it was. Whatever it was the Fianna Fáil Party took advantage of derating to get elected to this House and to become the elected Government of the country. In 1931 our agricultural exports amounted to £18,329,669; in 1934 they dropped to £6,015,462. And we do not want derating now, but we did want it when our exports were over £18,000,000.
What is the real situation in this country? I do not want to make any wild statements. I have here before me estimates from counties other than my own county. I have an estimate from the Offaly County Council, which has a majority of Fianna Fáil members, and of which a Fianna Fáil Deputy is chairman. What do we find there ? Here is what we find. In 1934, according to their estimates, they had a bill of £11,590 for home assistance as against £6,500 in 1931. That is the improvement that has been brought about in this country under Fianna Fáil policy. If they wanted derating in 1931 and 1932 when home assistance was £6,000 in Offaly, surely they want it now when home assistance is over £11,000.
As a matter of fact, I think the request embodied in this motion is a very modest one. All these promises made by Fianna Fáil were probably part of the Plan and the "Plan" having failed the promises went with it. The "Plan" certainly failed. I think the Minister for Local Government will admit that. They had a plan to cure unemployment. What has happened that plan? If we go into the figure of unemployment we do not seem to be convinced that the plan has worked. If I take up the Offaly County Council again, presided over by a Fianna Fáil Deputy, what do I find ? He said the other day:
"There is an advertisement published in every paper in the country asking the people to suggest ways by which the Government can reduce unemployment, and members of this Council would be well advised to put their suggestions before the Department dealing with the matter. It is a very serious problem and it concerns everybody."
We agree. I wonder what happened the "Plan." They are going out now searching the highways and the byways to make up for the loss of the "Plan." Of course, if the "Plan" has only been lost I am sure if the Government issued an advertisement it would turn up. The £5,000,000 may turn up. Even so, I doubt if it would be of any use.
Take the case of the Galway County Council. What is the position in Galway ? Take any of the county councils at random. What is the position of the ratepaying community? We had a meeting last October in Roscommon of the Finance Committee of the county council. As a matter of fact, they were all of one mind in politics with the Minister, and the business they met for was to examine the refund lists. The refund lists, as the Minister knows, are lists the collectors turn in of uncollected rates in the county. Now the Finance Committee of the Roscommon County Council, in going through these lists came to the conclusion—and they were all Fianna Fáil members—that there was a certain amount of rates that should be wiped out as irrecoverable, and that a sum of £7,800 should be carried forward to the better times that were coming this year. Some members of that county council were short-sighted enough afterwards to say it was the big men who were not paying their rates and annuities. Mark you, that Finance Committee had its responsibilities and its obligations and I have no doubt whatever that they acted up to their responsibilities and to their obligations. They could not, and should not, have passed one single item of that as being carried forward unless they were convinced that the people were not able to pay. They must first satisfy themselves that there was nothing there to seize and if there was, they should have ordered its seizure. The money was not collectable then. Why was it not collectable? Let Fianna Fáil answer that. It is a pity the Minister for Finance or the Minister for Industry and Commerce is not here to tell us, as they told us at the end of last year, that on every side we had evidence of prosperity. I wonder has the Minister for Local Government evidence of prosperity. Certainly, we have not got it. Galway County Council, as reported in the Connacht Tribune of 2nd February, 1935, says:
"The demands for home assistance have been steadily increasing and the estimate of £17,500 for the coming financial year is the highest on record. In 1927, the figure was as low as £10,000."
That is from Galway. There was another statement from the West Cork Board of Health. The West Cork Board of Health was in a bad way, according to the Southern Star on 2nd February, 1935. Deputy Corry probably knows all about that. According to the report in that paper, they were in a very bad way and
"unless the board received money immediately from the county council, home assistance payments would have to stop next week because the overdraft would then be exhausted."
And the county council had none. The whole country, so far as the local authorities are concerned, at the present time is living on overdrafts. How long they can continue is a matter for speculation. I have here a very interesting statement from a very strong, stout and stern supporter of Fianna Fáil—the chairman of the Westmeath County Council. The chairman, according to the Longford Leader of 26th January, 1935, said:
"The county council find it very hard to get in the rates and the board of health has no money to pay either home help or the officials."
Now are we justified in asking for derating? At the same meeting, the secretary of the county council, Mr. Roche, in discussing the rate collectors and whether they had done their duty or not, stated:
"The sheriff took cattle recently for rates and after feeding them for a week he had to return them as he could not sell them."
That discloses a very bad state of affairs in this country. In addition to all that, we are threatened now with the withholding of our grants for the non-payment of the annuities—the annuities which have been halved. Surely to goodness, if there is that prosperity in this country which the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Industry and Commerce can see, the people ought to be well able to pay the annuities, which have been halved.
I have here reports from the Kerry County Council, the Clare County Council and the Wexford County Council, together with a very illuminating resolution passed by the Wexford County Council—a gloriously illuminating resolution, passed, of course, by a Fianna Fáil majority. This is the resolution:
"That a list of ratepayers owing three years' rates——"
I wonder how did they manage to carry on for three years without paying rates?