Let us not forget that Deputy Lemass, according to his own claim, has been Minister for Supplies in this country for four years. He claimed in this House, long before the war started, that he knew all about it, and that he had set up an establishment in the Department of Industry and Commerce of that day to provide for contingencies. How did he provide for them? By retaining in operation all the quotas, all the tariffs and all the restrictions on imports into this country of goods that were vitally required for carrying on the life of the people until such time as those goods were no longer available. Then he took the restrictions off. That did not happen in one case. It happened in dozens of cases. I remember that I, myself, two years ago in this House, got up and urged that all restrictions on the imports of agricultural machinery should be removed. Deputy Allen was clamouring that there was plenty of agricultural machinery in the County Wexford to supply the whole country. The Minister for Industry and Commerce and the Minister for Supplies said that he had no intention of removing the restrictions since abundant supplies of the necessary types of agricultural machinery were to be had from the factories in Ireland. Where is the agricultural machinery now? In Great Britain where we cannot get it, but when we could have got it we would not be allowed to bring it in.
The same story can be told of 70 per cent. of the commodities that are in short supply at the present time from agricultural machinery down to cotton stockings. I remember the time when we could have bought thousands of dozens of pairs of cheap cotton hose that poor people require. We were told that we would not be allowed to bring in a single pair, but when supplies of that commodity were no longer available in Great Britain we were told that we could bring in as much as we liked. Time and again that has happened, and though nobody but a fool would propound the theory that the Minister for Supplies is responsible for all the shortages that we are experiencing in this country at the present time, I have no hesitation in saying that he has greatly exacerbated the shortages that at present exist. The root cause of the shortages in this country is that we are learning to our cost that the insanity of economic self-sufficiency is "cod," was "cod" and always will be "cod" like most of the Fianna Fáil programme. We nursed the illusion. God be with the day when the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defensive Measures was praying that all the ships that sailed the seven seas would be sunk so that we really could know the blessings of genuine economic self-sufficiency, and when he assured the country that if they were all sunk in the morning it would not make the slightest difference to us, that we would have everything we wanted within our four shores. Well, it is an expensive education that Ministerial gossoon is receiving. The whole country is obliged to suffer because of that mentality. Nevertheless, it influenced the Government at a time when it was possible to bring in to this country very substantial supplies.
Are the memories of Deputies so short that they do not realise that up to very recently there was a prohibitive tariff on artificial manures? You would not be allowed to bring in a bag. That was done in order to keep the manure ring in its position of being able to rob and plunder the public of this country. It is because you would not be allowed to bring in a bag that the country is now experiencing a shortage of artificial manures. At the very time when the manure ring was encouraging the Government to prevent the importation of artificial manures into this country they would not invest their illgotten gains in procuring reserves of phosphate rock. Goodness knows we have enough waste land in this country on which reserves of phosphate rock could have been stored. We had a Minister who foresaw the shortage 12 months before the war began. Did he succeed in persuading the gentlemen whom he had authorised to plunder the farmers of this country to invest some of the plunder in the piling up of reserves to meet the present shortage? Not a penny. They would not buy an ounce of reserve stock. The Government could go and buy it. They wanted to have public funds invested in it, but they would not risk their profits and dividends. I know they are regretting that now, because they could have made a nice profit on it and would have got away with it, of course. They did not see as clearly as some others did what profits could be made by accumulating stocks and therefore there was not a stone or a cwt. laid by for our people.
It is the Minister for Supplies who is responsible for permitting that kind of thing to happen in this country, who gets up quite blandly on the eve of a general election and says that things are not so bad after all, oblivious of the fact that six months ago he was standing at the corner of Capel Street telling us that we were on our last legs. The soul was frightened out of him six months ago. For the last three years our people have demonstrated their capacity to face any kind of emergency they have been asked to confront. But if, by false pretences, you represent to our people that there is a desperate situation to be met and they brace themselves to meet it, only to be told six months later that it was a canard and there was not any desperate situation, you will find that by crying "wolf" in that way you will cry it once too often, and when it does become necessary for the people to brace themselves to meet a severe ordeal they will say: "In three months' time he will be telling us there is no danger."
The Minister got up to-day and confessed that he so far misrepresented the rubber situation six months ago that he warned the nation there would be no tyres to maintain public traffic and that now, after the passage of six months, he is in a position to say that there is sufficient to keep us going for 12 months and that he intends to increase the ration of bicycle tyres. If he has all the elaborate machinery he is continually patting himself on the back about, he ought to be able to make a better guess six months ahead than that, and we are entitled to ask of him a better estimate in future, if he undertakes to make an estimate at all. I would have great sympathy with the Minister if he said: "My position is that I am not in a situation to make any formal estimate except to say that from week to week and month to month I will do my best." But he has not adopted that course. He has seen fit to come out with harangues at the street corners of Dublin. He spoke of what he foresaw and he warned the people and spoke advisedly and, six months later in Dáil Eireann, he said it was all hullabaloo, that he was mistaken and the situation was not as he described it to be. He will do that once too often; he is doing it too often. Deputies will ask themselves why is this mass of contradictions so much emphasised by me. It is because it is all done with a purpose. It is done for the purpose of persuading people to forget his own record in office. It is done for the purpose of obliterating from the public mind this salient fact which must be remembered if our present situation is to be fully understood—that there were supplies available and the Minister prevented us from bringing them in. In every case, when the time was passed for acquiring supplies, the prohibitions which he had so sedulously maintained were removed and we were told to get all we could when we, who were in the trade, knew there was none to be got. That is the root of a great many of our difficulties at present.
I instance two isolated and dissociated commodities in connection with which that happened—cotton hosiery and agricultural machinery. There are dozens of others you could quote if you had a schedule of them before you. In the middle of this crisis we were informed that there was a heavy tariff placed on cotton wool in order to protect a factory out in Clonskeagh. At a time when it was difficult to get any cotton wool for a suit tailored in this country the trade was required to depend upon the supplies from Clonskeagh and prohibited from drawing its supplies of that now extremely scarce commodity from its usual sources. I suppose 95 per cent. of the tailors in the country were drawing supplies of that commodity from Manchester. But, at a given date, the whole trade was stopped, and that in the middle of a period of emergency when supplies were almost unobtainable.
Do Deputies realise that for 18 months after the war began you could not get a yard of flannelette from Great Britain? It was not because there was a scarcity of flannelette in England—there was plenty. You could have bought and secured delivery of all you wanted to buy, but the Minister for Industry and Commerce would not let you bring it in, so that at the moment there is not a yard of flannelette in the country. You know what that means for the country people and for the poor. When they want underclothes they have to make them out of whatever rags and tatters may be left about the house. Then the Minister here will tell you that our present shortage of flannelette is due to the fact that our cotton supply was reduced to 20 per cent. Who reduced our supplies of cotton and cotton textiles when the available supplies in Great Britain were 200 per cent? I know one small shopkeeper in Ballaghadereen who could have got sufficient to clothe all the people of Ballaghadereen for two years. He would not be allowed to bring in a yard of it until he could not get an inch of it, and then he was told to bring in all he liked. Will the Minister explain that? Perhaps the Minister for the Coordination of Defensive Measures will come in and join in the chorus of explanation and demonstrate to us now how we would benefit by the sinking of all the ships that sailed the seven seas.
I heard the Minister for Supplies talking yesterday about how rubber came in. I interjected: "Where are you getting it?" He said he had nothing to add to the explanation. If we are getting supplies from Great Britain, if the British are carrying these supplies across the seven seas at the peril of their lives and, when they are landed in Great Britain, they share these supplies with us, albeit on a much smaller scale than they did prewar, would it not be a gracious and civil thing to say: "We are getting so much rubber and we are getting it from Great Britain"—if that is where it is coming from? Are we so neutral in this country that we cannot discharge the obligations of common civility and gratitude? When men risk their lives to get supplies to keep us going, do we owe them no debt of gratitude except that which can be discharged in coin of the realm? Is that the view which obtains here? If so, my fellow Deputies are of a different type from what I expected them to be; from what I know them to be. I know well that most of the rational Deputies recognise that when men risk their lives to carry supplies to a country like this at the present time, those who receive and benefit by them have some debt of gratitude and public recognition to discharge. It seems to me to be a mean thing to preserve that shameful anonymity under which you say: "We are getting in supplies," but do not dare to say whence they come.
I read in the papers and I heard very often in Dáil Eireann very stringent attacks made upon shopkeepers in this country. I wonder do Deputies in this House understand the ordeal through which shopkeepers in rural Ireland are passing at the present time? I know a shop and it is keeping 15 different registers of rationed commodities, most of them rationed by the Government, some of them rationed by the manufacturers. How do you imagine the retail shop in rural Ireland distributes butter or jam at the present time? The Government has funked the duty of rationing these commodities, but the people expect their normal supplier to see justice done, and the shopkeepers are trying to do it. How do you expect the country shop that is engaged in retail and wholesale distribution to carry on with machine-like precision, considering the measure of co-operation they are getting from the Government? Have any of the Deputies of this House ever asked themselves how a small shopkeeper with, perhaps, 200 tea customers, rations out his tea for the week? He has to ensure that ¾-oz. of tea goes to each member of each of the 200 households—no more, no less. He has to keep a record of the sales, and he must endeavour at the end of every month to demonstrate that he has weighed out every pound of tea in ¾-oz. packets, that they have all been delivered, and that no tea has been mislaid. That is only one commodity. He has to weigh out sugar in ½-lb. packets, and he has to ensure that each person in each household gets a ½-lb.
I am not quarrelling with the Ministry of Supply. They have their difficulties the same as the country shopkeeper has his, but I often wonder do they envisage the type of trade done in rural Ireland or are they founding their systems of rationing and so forth on the experience of city shops. Do they think of one shop selling tea and sugar, another shop selling bacon, another shop selling cornflour and grocers' sundries, or do they understand that in rural Ireland everything from the candle to the plough may be sold in the one shop? Do they realise that in rural Ireland marketing is not done spread out over the six days of the week? You have three days in which there is practically nobody in the town and one or two days in which the whole population comes in and you have to be prepared to ration practically your entire output on market day and, possibly, on Saturday afternoon. Do they realise that in many country shops; in addition to furnishing groceries, wine and spirits are consumed on the premises, and drapery and boots are sold? You have to be just as strict in rationing reels of thread and boxes of boot polish as you have in ½ lbs. of butter and ½ lbs. of rasher bacon.
I do not want to suggest, Sir— because it would not be true if I did— that if you bring these specific problems to the Department of Supplies or the Department of Industry and Commerce you are met with blank refusal or other lack of sympathy. That is not true. My experience is, certainly, that when I have gone to the Department of Supplies or the Department of Industry and Commerce and exposed peculiar problems which had not been foreseen, they have been met as fairly as it was possible, within the circumstances that obtained, to meet them. But, everybody cannot go to the Department of Supplies. I can go, but I am thinking of the thousands of small shopkeepers who do not even know where the Department is and who, if they once got into the Department, would get lost in the Department. We, in Dáil Eireann, know the man. We do not go to the Minister or to the secretary. We know the head of the division or we know some man in the division who can put us in touch with the man who is handling the particular problem. We can thread our way through the various corridors and myriad rooms until we can find someone to give us yea or may in regard to our particular problem. But the mass of the people cannot do that, and the bewilderment with which they find themselves overwhelmed is painful.
I know that a Minister sitting in Dublin, when he sends out two inspectors to make a routine review, cannot see that that should cause any undue consternation. I wish the Minister would come down the country and watch the reactions of some unfortunate woman in a country shop when two strange men come in, one in a fedora hat and the other in a tweed cap, and say: "We come from the Department of Supplies." If Dick Turpin and Jack the Ripper came into her kitchen, she could not be thrown into a state of wilder confusion. I do not want to suggest that the attitude of these gentlemen is that of Dick Turpin or Jack the Ripper. If she would take herself easy she would probably find that they were reasonable people and the thing would work out all right, but she never does take herself easy. She gets excited, frightened, consternated. These are busy men and they have to do their work and get on to some other job and they have not time to sit down and cosset her and restore her equilibrium. For the period that they are there she is in a state of hysteria and for six weeks afterwards she is waiting for something to hit her, waiting for a letter indicating the appalling consequences that have eventuated as the result of the arrival of these two gentlemen. All the neighbours are coming in for the next week, sloping around to know who were the strange men. They know quite well who they were but they want to know more about it, if they can get information.
I suppose that is largely unavoidable in the situation in which we find ourselves, but we ought to recognise the difficulties of people who have to endure all that kind of supervision and interference, to which they are not accustomed, and which frequently they do not understand. What is peculiarly exasperating is that it is the common experience in rural Ireland that the man who keeps his records most meticulously, so meticulously that he reveals his own mistakes, gets caught and is prosecuted, while he knows there is a fellow across the street who keeps no record at all, because his transactions are of so nefarious a kind that nobody would dare to report him and, because he keeps no record and because he is acute fellow, he gets off acot free. The Minister's reply to that is: "Do you know such a person?" Of course I know him. Is there a Deputy in this House who does not know that, but knowing it and proving that they are doing it is another thing. I know people who have been in to them, and who have bought tea at 1/6 an ounce, but to get them to come and tell the Minister for Supplies is quite another story. The very people who are dealing with them will say: "Where else could we get it? What good is ¾-oz. of tea? We drink it in two days. So-and-so has tea and will give it to you at 1/6 if you deal with him for sugar"—and he has all the sugar he wants, and he is riding high, wide and handsome. Next door to him there is a poor devil sweating to make 224½-lbs. out of a 112-lb. bag of sugar; sweating to divide his monthly deliveries of tea into ¾-oz. packets. He is short in the sugar and has too much tea at the end of the month, and he is prosecuted. He is held up as the type of the black marketeer, grey hairs having appeared in his head in his efforts to maintain a series of forms, the like of which he never contemplated before in his entire business career.
Are not these things true? I do not minimise the Minister's difficulties. The purpose of ventilating these facts is to try to persuade Deputies to get the circumstances of the country shopkeeper into reasonable proportion. There are bad hats amongst the country shopkeepers but, by and large, 95 per cent. of them are decent men and women who are trying to earn a modest living and who are having at present a very hard time. Those who were rich enough to acquire large stocks have, undoubtedly, made considerable profits but the vast majority of small country shopkeepers buy their stocks from week to week. In many cases, they are left short by the wholesalers who usually supply them and, in the remainder of the cases, their profits bear a close relation to the prices they pay for their goods. Having to buy from week to week, as the prices are rising, they are paying the full rise every day.
I want to say to the Minister for Supplies quite deliberately that I consider his entire policy of rationing to be misconceived and mistaken. He has allowed himself to be bustled, largely by the Labour Party, into the utter folly of attempting to control everything. It cannot be done. The net result of attempting to control everything, unless you set up a system such as obtains in Great Britain and the other countries at war in which you control everything from the source of production down to the point of consumption, is that nothing will be effectively controlled.
If the Minister for Supplies had determined to ration or control a few vital commodities, without which people could not get on, and if he had taken entire control of these commodities from the point of production down to the point of consumption, then the thing could have been effectively done. But the attempt to control the price of thread and biscuits and 101 luxury commodities, which ought never have been controlled may simply convert the retail trade into a pandemonium of confusion. It has resulted in the services of men who ought to be engaged in controlling vital commodities being dissipated in chasing round after a shopkeeper who has sold a ½ lb. of Jacob's Fairy Biscuits at ½d. more than the controlled price. That is what is happening. It has forced unfortunate shopkeepers to attempt to maintain a system of records applying to 30 or 40 commodities which they are quite unable to keep. This has resulted in their frequently losing sight of vital commodities which ought to be rigorously controlled, and which could be rigorously controlled if the number of controlled commodities was reasonably delimited.
I do not desire to criticise the Minister without making suggestions. I do not want to suggest that the Minister is oppressing the shopkeepers without pointing out, at the same time, how the position can be equitably rectified. There is an equitable way of dealing with the present situation. That is to review the whole system of rationing. Let the Minister make up his mind that he must go whole hog over to the British system or the system obtaining in other countries actually at war—a system of rationing primarily designed to limit public expenditure and divert wealth into savings—or, if he has resolved that that system of rationing is impracticable or undesirable in the situation in which we find ourselves, let him relinquish the attempt to ration or control the prices of luxury articles. He should take butter, milk, sugar, tea, bacon, flour and certain other vital commodities—in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, I think these should include candles and paraffin oil—and control them rigidly from the port of entry or the factory of production all the way through to the consumer, so that, when he gives the consumer sumer a ration card for any one of these commodities, it will not only entitle him to get that quantity of the commodity, but it will indicate to him to what shop he can go and demand that quantity, knowing that the Minister for Supplies has, directly or indirectly, placed a supply there for him. Have Deputies of the Fianna Fáil Party not told the Minister that, in large parts of the country, when people go in with tea and sugar cards, they do not get anything at all. They are simply told by the shopkeeper that there is not any and they go away. I suggest to the Minister that the proper situation ought to be that, if a person holds a ration card for a given commodity, he ought to know that when he goes into his registered supplier the Minister will see that he is supplied or know the reason why from the shopkeeper, the Minister having placed in that shopkeeper's store the necessary supply to meet the ration card held by the customer.
At present, it is a common experience for shopkeepers who have tried to supply their customers every week with the required ration to find letters addressed to them by the Department of Supplies directing them to take on a new customer for a rationed commodity. You discover, when you investigate the facts, that you are being asked to take on a tea customer from a shopkeeper up the street who has been turning his regular customers away because he wants to sell his tea on the black market. He dumps his customer down on top of you to absorb the tea which you had earmarked for regular customers who had been dealing with you for from ten to 20 years. He does not do that because of scarcity. He tells his customers he has no tea but he is selling it out by the back door at 24/- a lb. So long as the present hit-and-miss system is pursued, that will go on. With our present machinery, we cannot contemplate the rigid form of rationing I envisage for the 100 and one commodities the Minister has sought to control. I, therefore, make a concrete suggestion to the Minister. Take a dozen articles which may be regarded as vital necessities and control them from the source to the point of consumption as, in fact, you do in respect of sugar, which is one of the most successful branches of rationing so far put into operation. Let that apply all round. Limit the number of goods to be controlled. Then you can reasonably ask shopkeepers to keep exhaustive records and you can be reasonably certain that consumers who have ration cards will get that to which they are entitled.
The Minister, from his own experience of the rationing system as applied to sugar, will agree with me that it is working better than any other system of rationing or control. Let him extend it to such number of commodities as he is able effectively to control. Let the others find their own level or, if they are truly luxury products, stop their manufacture completely, if that is necessary. If they can conveniently continue to be supplied, well and good. Any little luxuries that relieve the darkness that surrounds us at present are very welcome. But if they cannot be conveniently supplied, or if their supply simply gives rise to marketing abuses, let them go. The raw materials from which they are being manufactured can be very profitably employed in the production of some bread-and-butter article of which there is a shortage in another sphere.
I am keenly aware of the appalling inconvenience caused by the want of candles and paraffin oil. It is very difficult for a man living in Dublin to understand what that means for people living in rural Ireland. The man in Dublin is accustomed to a man turning on the electric light or the gas, and he does not care about the position of people in the country who find themselves in the dark at 4 o'clock in the afternoon and have to remain so until 9 o'clock next morning. It does not occur to the man in Dublin what it means to a man in the country who has to make his way out to a cowhouse in the dark at 3 o'clock in the morning to look at a cow calving.
That was the daily experience of many people in the country last winter. I cannot, however, hold the Minister responsible for that. What can he do? He is exclusively dependent, as far as I know, for supplies of raw materials and paraffin wax on America or Great Britain, and I presume is getting as much as he can. I direct his attention to it as, no doubt, other Deputies will, and I urge him to keep that position constantly in mind. Owing to lack of personal experience of that kind of life, I urge him to be on guard against underestimating the magnitude of the inconvenience and real hardship that is being caused in rural Ireland. I suppose he is doing his best and therefore I cannot make a hullabaloo about it. If I were in his position I do not know that I could do more than he is doing in order to get candles and lighting materials.
I want to ask this question of the Minister. Why are tea coupons cut out of ration books? There are 300 or 400 coupons for tea and when they are cut out they are put into boxes in which they lie. What happens then? They are never asked for. I have boot boxes full of tea coupons, and they are there to provide food for mice. Think of 10,000 shopkeepers blunting their scissors cutting tea coupons to provide food for mice.
I want also to protest against the practice of prosecuting well-known and respectable shopkeepers for overcharging ½d. or a ¼d., for which junior assistants are responsible. I saw a case in the courts where a firm was brought up for overcharging ½d. and heavily fined, although they were able to prove that they had 1,000,000 transactions. They took every conceivable precaution to avoid overcharging, and had notices in the shop begging anybody who thought they were overcharged to draw their attention to it. Because one junior assistant overcharged that firm was prosecuted. Surely that was not necessary. There ought to be some discretion shown before the Department institutes prosecutions of that kind, and there ought to be some evidence brought to the attention of the Minister which would lead him to believe that the price charged was in excess of the fixed price. When talking about the charging of excessive prices I wonder if another section of the Minister's Department investigated the prices charged by the Turf Development Board. I want to tell the House an illuminating story about what happened on one occasion, and I am telling it to the Minister so that he can investigate it. I understand that the Minister for Supplies may investigate the affairs of the Department of Industry and Commerce. The Turf Development Board produce good turf charcoal and quoted £7 10s. 0d. a ton and got an order, but when the time for delivery arrived the price had gone up to £15. There was to be no delivery until £15 was clapped on the table. The firm concerned said: "Very well, I suppose we have to stand and deliver." They sent a supplementary cheque. They then rang up the Turf Development Board to inform them that the lorry was going out, asking that their order should be ready. They were then informed that there was a little matter of £5 for which a cheque was wanted. When it was pointed out that there must be a mistake the reply was: "Oh, the price has gone up. The charge is now £20 a ton." I assure the House that at £20 a ton three tons were loaded on the lorry and brought home. If that is not an astronomical price I do not know what is. God help some unfortunate publican in Ballydehob if that happened. If it could be proved against him his name would stink in the nostrils of Caitlín Ní Houlihan. God knows if anybody did that kind of thing his name would deserve to stink in the nostrils of the public. If the facts as stated by me are true—and I know them to be true—the Minister when he comes to reply will, I hope, be good enough to deal with the matter.
There are all over the country large numbers of lorries laid up, on which the tyres are rotting, tanks leaking, and the batteries worn out. Owners would sooner have scrap prices than have their vehicles disintegrating. There is at present no means of turning these lorries to a useful purpose. The Minister has stated that they should be sold through the ordinary channels of trade. I do not know anybody who would buy a lorry at present. The Minister will not allow them to be sold in Northern Ireland and will not allow them to be renewed. If they are left as they are they will rot. Surely these lorries ought to be acquired or taken over by the Army, in view of the fact that there are men there to maintain them and to look after them. They could be sold at the end of the war. In the meantime these lorries could be kept in some state of repair and would give a great many fellows who, I suppose, are short of work, employment. If they were in charge of an Army maintenance staff they might turn in useful, and post-war might be sold, might be exported, or perhaps sold back to people who will require them, with the knowledge that they would be in good repair. Many of them are lorries that could do with an overhauling. Here you have a large staff of motor engineers attached to the Army, and I am sure that in their spare time they could find profitable occupation on that work. We would then have a guarantee that at the end of the emergency we would have a fleet of motor transport upon which we could depend until new vehicles are available through the ordinary channels of supply. After the emergency it will not be possible to buy a motor lorry in Eire for five years, because our place post-war, in priority of supply, is going to be very low, and a good deal of lorries of a commercial type will be required everywhere. It is a shame to let them rot away, especially when you consider that most of them have five heavy tyres, and all of them have batteries, which I am informed are practically impossible to get at the present time.
Another matter to which I want to refer is Irish Shipping, Limited. I have no desire to asperse in any way the directors of Irish Shipping, Limited. There are amongst them representatives of some of the oldest and most respected families in this country, men of whom any nation might be proud. But on more than one occasion here the Minister has sought to establish that, when speaking of Irish Shipping, Limited, we are speaking of five gentlemen who, without any reward whatever, are giving public service as directors of that board, and not infrequently he has compared Deputies in this House unfavourably with those gentlemen. On an occasion recently he said that Deputies are well paid for anything they do, whereas those men are doing all they are doing for nothing. I want definitely to lay that "codology," because "codology" it is. Technically, the five directors of Irish Shipping, Limited, receive no remuneration for their services.