I would not be raising the question now if a straight answer had been given. I wanted to know if certain files belonging to that Department had been returned. This House has never been told that. I regret very much that last year we did not take what I should have considered a right and dignified line. A country that seeks to make its voice heard in international councils should, at least, have a definite point of view and have its mind made up on any point that arises. There was the question of the admission of Russia to the League of Nations. One could understand that the President or his Department or this country might have been entirely in favour of Russia coming into the League of Nations or entirely opposed to it. If I remember rightly, on that question of Russia coming within the comity of nations, our country voted neither for nor against. That was our contribution to that question. I could quite understand that there might be good reasons, unknown to the public, for a certain course of action but the natural course would have been that taken by Mr. Motta.
Another thing that seems to me to have militated against the good name of this country arose from the fact that there are two types of nations completely unpopular in the international sphere, because they make trouble. One is the big bullying nation and the other is the small truculent nation. The small nations of truculent, arrogant, exaggerated nationalism have been the cause, and possibly are the cause, of enormous injury to and lack of peace in the world generally. I do not think—this is only a personal judgment—that a small nation which truculently enters into a condition of war, even though it be only an economic war, with a country for which it is not a match, is likely to be a good advocate of world peace. If every country sits down and morbidly considers what, in its own morbid condition, it regards as full justice, then the only possible condition for the world is a state of chronic war.
The attitude of the President and of the Government is always that of complaining of existing facts. What is our real quarrel with England? That geographically we are very near her. Another quarrel is that we are an agricultural country and need her market. We have that as a sort of grievance. Whether we are a small or a big nation, there are going to be certain disadvantages attached to our position. Let me give an instance of that. A few years ago, the British went off the gold standard and the value of their £ decreased to about 16/- or 15/-. The natural reaction of that was that the new type of £ would not buy as much as the former type of £. That is to say, considered in £'s, a larger number of £'s would be required to buy the same commodity. It is well known that the effect of that action by the British was to diminish the producers' and wholesalers' prices all over the world. In Patagonia, Australia, Yugo-Slavia, Africa and all producing countries, they found that, because the British Government had decided to change the value of their £, the goods they produced changed in value to something less. They had a grievance about that. That comes from the fact that Britain, with its 45,000,000 people—the greatest consuming and importing country in the world—is so important in the world market that their action in regard to their £ meant that 16/- could buy as much as 20/- did before. Because the British are in that position, they suffer a certain weakness. They are an enormous importing country, depending on sea-borne food. Because of that position, in which they can change the value of goods in all parts of the world, they have to maintain an enormous navy, because otherwise they could be cut off from their food supplies and starved out in a short time. In that way, they have to pay the price of their advantage. We have the disadvantage of being next to an enormously powerful country, but we have the advantage that it is our natural market. We have entered into a completely absurd and futile quarrel with the British. It is all right to sit down and think of the possible rights you can claim as long as you can make that claim operative.
What did we do? We started a row about the land annuities. It was proposed at first that the question should be negotiated. Speaking from memory, I think the President seemed to be afraid that the British might agree to an international tribunal, and speaking subject to correction, at another stage he found it necessary to raise not merely the legal question about the land annuities, if it was to be arbitration, but also the whole political question.
Another proposal I understand was that there should not be arbitration but that there should be negotiations; that two Irish representatives and two British representatives should meet to consider whether some agreement could be come to on the disputed question of the land annuities. What the public understood at the time was that the British were agreeable, but that at one stage they said that the land annuities that had been previously paid should continue to be paid, and that if, as a result of the negotiations, the payments were remitted, wholly or in part, then they would send back the amount overpaid during the period of the negotiations. We understood that our Government objected to that and said they would retain the land annuities in a Suspense Account while the negotiations were going on. The British as we understand then said "Very well, in that case tariffs will be maintained on Irish produce during the period of the negotiations," so that the proposal came to nothing. One can understand that the Government might have some point of principle in that. They might have said that the mere fact of not agreeing to enter into negotiations with the British, while they are making their claim operative, might tend to prejudice the case to be considered during the negotiations.
In the month of January we were told that negotiations had taken place on parallel lines, and that while they went on, the British continued to collect tariffs. In spite of that, agreement was reached, under which the tariffs were to remain. The agreement created a condition in which the total sum collected by way of tariffs was going to be greater. Is it not possible now for the President to say that what was talked of in 1932 could have been made a reality? We say that there is no objection whatever in principle to negotiating with the British on questions arising out of the economic war while they continue to collect the tariffs on our goods. If that is so, is there any objection to the previous proposal, having two or 20 Irish representatives meeting a similar number of British representatives to go into the whole question, even while tariffs are being collected on our goods, and while we retain the annuities? What is the objection? Is there any reason why that should not be done? As a result of the Government's action in having the matter thrashed out with the British, to see if what they propose is something that we can consider acceptable or, in the alternative unacceptable, we are committed to nothing. It is only a short time since the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance, in the course of a speech, wanted to know what were our proposals, or what could we promise in the way of getting the British to forego their claim to the money. If we said that we could promise anything it would be dishonest to do so. We could not promise that. If we did so, Fianna Fáil spokesmen would immediately go around the country, as they did before with typical dishonesty, saying: "Clearly, you are acting treacherously; you are negotiating with the British behind the backs of the Government." We have no right and no authority to do that.
But what did the Government do? If the position of 1932 remains, that can be ascertained by short negotiations or by protracted negotiations, and the whole matter can be thrashed out with the British without in any way prejudicing any point of principle that the Government might have at heart. They can put to themselves the question put to us by the Parliamentary Secretary, and be able to tell the people what are the maximum concessions to be got from the British, and let the people then judge whether it would be worth while making any concession on our side, with a view to reaping from whatever the British might be prepared to give, any advantage that it would bring to our people.
This Department has been referred to as the Cinderella of the Departments. I do not want to be injust to the Minister, but it seems to me that during the last couple of years it has been turned into a sort of Limbo. We have seen a man transferred from the Irish Press into this Department. We saw another man jettisoned into this Department—I do not wish to refer to this because I have only seen a newspaper report— who, it is suggested was over the Civil Service retiring age. I could quite understand such a situation in the case of a man with particular qualifications, which would make it an advantage to disregard the ordinary Civil Service rules and to bring him from outside. As far as my knowledge goes the men who have been brought into this Department were brought in to the detriment of the ordinary progress of promotion, and consequently of good order, the contentment of the staff and of ordinary justice to men who have given good service. Men from outside, including, I am informed, men beyond the ordinary Civil Service retiring age, were brought in, as if the Department could not produce men for the various functions to be performed. I referred to a similar type of thing with regard to the Army. I do not think it is very important, but it seems to me to err against justice.
The cost of the Department is increasing. I do not complain of that, only that it does seem rather strange, while the Minister for Finance should assume that he would be able to make each Department cost something between 3 and 4 per cent. less than estimated, yet, within a few weeks he has to come along for an additional Vote which indicates that instead of being able to make a saving on the original Vote the Department will cost more.
I feel that there is a general attitude of truculence, especially amongst the stronger powers. In ordinary life we know that people have to have regard to existing circumstances. If a small man threatens a big man and suffers for it we all say, "It serves him right; he was asking for it." This Government came into office and immediately began to challenge our constitutional relations and even our financial relations with Great Britain, the only justification being that the Government would have been able to get away with it. It has not, but it has inflicted enormous hardship on the people.
It is right and proper that the existing Government of this country, irrespective of what their past may have been, should be in the closest co-operation with Great Britain. Instead of that we have Minister's representatives going around the country telling the people that we are not free, that we have got to suffer and to cripple ourselves economically merely to show that we are not satisfied, while others hold out an ideal of freedom not attainable by any country. The British people are forced by the attitude of other countries to maintain a Navy. If they had not got it their ideal of freedom would be an immediate jeopardy. We have been told that other countries are not satisfied with their position. Belgium is not free according to the President's ideal of national freedom. I might say that the United States is not free, according to the President's ideal of national freedom. I pointed out here before that, although the United States Constitution provides that no alcoholic liquor was to be brought into American territory, the United States entered into an agreement with Great Britain and other countries, which permitted the Constitution to be overridden. In order to meet the wishes of Great Britain and other countries, the American Constitution was overridden. I remember when in the Department of External Affairs some time ago, that Belgium and Holland proposed to make an agreement with regard to the navigation of the Scheldt and we were asked to agree.