To-day in the House, and on 20th November last, I addressed the following question to the Minister for Finance:—
"To ask the Minister for Finance if he will state (a) the cost per ton on the bog of the turf produced during the 1941 season at Clonsast, the cost of the haulage per ton of such turf from the bog to the railhead at Portarlington, the cost per ton of its transport by rail from Portlaoighise to Dublin; (b) the cost per ton of transporting turf by road from Clonsast to Dublin, and (c) the total quantities of Clonsast turf carried by (1) rail, and (2) road to Dublin up to October 31st, 1941."
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister, who is also known to Deputies and to the people of the country as the Turf Controller, furnished this rather amusing reply:—
"Turf is produced at Clonsast by the Turf Development Board, Limited, and sold by them on a commercial basis."
That is the answer to the query as to what is the cost per ton of the turf produced at Clonsast. He goes on to say:—
"The cost of haulage and rail transport is the subject of a business arrangement between the parties concerned."
That is another rather amusing answer to a request for a figure. Continuing, the Parliamentary Secretary said:—
"Generally, the question relates to administrative matters within the competence of the Turf Development Board, and in this regard I would refer the Deputy to the replies made by the Minister for Industry and Commerce to questions on such matters asked by him on 16th June, 1936, and 9th February, 1939."
On 9th February, 1939, in reply to a question addressed to the then Minister for Industry and Commerce dealing with the quantity of turf produced at Clonsast, and the conditions under which such turf was produced, Mr. Lemass said, as reported at column 222 of the Official Debates, Volume 74:—
"I would refer the Deputy to the reply which I gave to a similar question addressed to me by him on the 16th June, 1936. On that occasion I told the Deputy that the particulars desired by him related to administrative matters, a settlement of which falls within the competence of the Turf Development Board and in which my Department does not interfere."
The position, I suggest, has been completely changed since the Turf Development Board was transferred to a section of the Department under the control of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance. As far as I understand it, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance, by virtue of the powers conferred upon him under the Emergency Powers Act, has complete control over the production and distribution of what is known as national turf, and that includes turf produced in Clonsast.
To confirm that, the Parliamentary Secretary, in reply to a supplementary question put by me on 20th November (Official Debates, column 849, Volume 85) asking him: "Is it a fact that the Turf Development Board is now under the control of the Parliamentary Secretary," said: "The answer is in the affirmative." As a Deputy in this House I have good reason to know that the Parliamentary Secretary, under the powers conferred on him in the Emergency Powers Act, has given directions for the distribution of the turf produced at Clonsast. He did order, I believe, at a particular date, that all the turf produced at Clonsast should be sent to Dublin. Will he deny that? I would be the last in this House to charge the Parliamentary Secretary with discourtesy in replying to questions, but there is no doubt that the reply given to the question addressed to him by me on 20th November last is more like a reply that would be given by a school-master to a schoolboy, and I am not prepared to accept the position of schoolboy in matters of this kind.
I suspect that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance, the Turf Controller, who is in complete control of the turf produced in Clonsast and the turf produced by the county councils throughout the country, will not give me this information because he suspects that, if he gives the information to the House and puts those figures on the records here, his colleague, the Minister for Supplies, will find it extremely difficult if not impossible to convince the people of this city that they should be charged at the rate of 64/- a ton for the best of turf produced in Clonsast. I assert here now that about six weeks or two months ago the best of turf was produced in Clonsast bog under trade union conditions at 22/6 a ton; that the cost of carrying that turf from the bog to Portarlington station was 5/- a ton, and that the cost of carrying it by rail from Portarlington to Dublin was at the rate of 7/11 per ton, making 35/5 per ton for the best turf produced in this country and landed in the City of Dublin. I can imagine that, if those figure are anything like correct, it will be extremely difficult for the Minister for Supplies to justify a charge of 64/- a ton to the citizens of Dublin. There is 28/7 to be accounted for, if my figures are anything like correct.
The Parliamentary Secretary, when he was appointed to the position of Turf Controller, appealed to all Parties in the House to co-operate with him in carrying out the difficult task that had been handed over to him, and handed over to him at a time when it had been muddled and messed by the four different Departments which were dealing with the turf production scheme in this country up to the time when he was appointed to the position of Turf Controller under the Emergency Powers Act. He has, as far as I know, been given all the co-operation which he invited. On the other hand, I think it is only fair that he should be frank with Deputies of this House and give Deputies information of this kind to which, as representatives of the people, they are quite rightly entitled. If he has the information in this possession—as I have good reason to believe he has, because he is a competent head of the Board of Works, and he is, I would say, a competent Turf Controller—it is not fair that he should withhold it from the Deputies of this House.
At any rate, I think it is quite unfair for the Parliamentary Secretary to refuse to give information which Deputies are entitled to ask for and get. I should like to hear from him the reason why he persists in refusing to give this information to me or any other Deputy who may seek information of this kind. I contend—I may be wrong—that the Parliamentary Secretary, in his position as Turf Controller, is in quite a different position from the position occupied by the Minister for Industry and Commerce on the 9th February, 1936. I believe it is true that at that time in 1936 the Minister for Industry and Commerce did not interfere in the detailed administration of the Turf Development Board, but I also believe that the position is quite different to-day, that the Parliamentary Secretary and Turf Controller is almighty so far as turf production and distribution is concerned, that he has this information in his possession and he has given no good reason for refusing to give it to me.