Deputy McGilligan has given notice of his intention to raise, on the adjournment, as a definite matter of urgent public importance, the position which has arisen regarding the supply of electricity and fuel.
Adjournment: Standing Order 29: Supply of Electricity and Fuel.
In the temporary absence of Deputy McGilligan, I desire to raise this matter upon the adjournment. I hope that circumstances will allow Deputy McGilligan to be present in the course of this debate.
A few nights before the opening of the new Dáil, which had just been elected, the public were, to say the least of it, started, not merely by the suddenness of the announcement of the Minister for Supplies, but the manner in which that announcement was made, and the period selected for the statement that a grave curtailment had to be adopted in electricity consumption and the supply of fuel, such as anthracite, to domestic users of that coal.
I do not wish to occupy the attention of the House in doing what I think has already been done, namely, protesting against the use of the wireless for purposes of this kind, announcing to the public a matter of major importance which ought to have been announced in the first instance to Deputies. A protest has already been made in that connection, and, so far as I am concerned, I merely wish to underline that protest and to say that it is time that matters of this kind should be first brought to the attention of this House, and that there should be an adequate opportunity for discussing a matter of such importance as the subject matter of the Minister's announcement over the wireless.
It is no exaggeration to say that the Minister's announcement was one of the most startling that he has made either over the wireless or to a Fianna Fáil club concerning matters of major importance affecting the economic life of the community. The public were not in any way prepared for the announcement that was made that night by the Minister, and the first thing that I think the public wish to know is why it was that this announcement had to be made in the sudden way in which it was made, and in the startling manner in which it was made. The public were told that the Electricity Supply Board had adopted a certain rationing scheme, or perhaps it would be more correct to say that they were told by the Minister that night that, in consequence of the restricted supply of coal, severe cuts would have to be put into force immediately in the case of domestic consumers and also in the case of industrial consumers.
In his reply, to-day, to a question, I think the Minister used the phrase that the rationing policy adopted by the Electricity Supply Board had been approved by both of his Departments. In the advertisement issued by the Electricity Supply Board announcing the cuts that would have to be made by consumers the phrase, I think, was used that the rationing was being adopted in accordance with the direction of the Minister for Supplies. I think we should know, and the public are entitled to know, in the first place, whether this rationing scheme of such a drastic nature was the rationing scheme of the Electricity Supply Board or whether it was made by the direction of the Minister for Supplies. That is the first question to which we are entitled to be furnished with an answer.
The next matter I would like to emphasise is that the Minister, in the course of his wireless broadcast, stated that one of the reasons, if not the main reason, for the drastic cuts to electricity consumers was the drought which had occurred during the winter season and also in the spring season, and he stated that in March of this year the supply of water in the Shannon was only one-fifth of the average; that in April it was one-third, and in May again one-fifth of the average. I think we are entitled to know, and a disquieted public demands to know, why it was if, in the month of March of this year, three and a half months ago, it was known that the supply of water in the Shannon on which the Electricity Supply Board relied for the maintenance of their output of electricity, had fallen to one-fifth of the average, no steps appear to have been taken by the Government to meet a situation which at that time ought to have been apparent as being inevitable. I do not know what explanation the Minister can give for the delay, or whether there is any explanation that can be given as to why the Government had to wait until the month of June, when it appeared perfectly clearly it was almost inevitable that the supply of electricity would have to be drastically curtailed.
I think in the history of this country during the four years of the emergency every economic crisis which has arisen, every crisis in relation to supply, has always come suddenly upon the public. Every time there has been any crisis in the matter of supply the public are suddenly faced with drastic restrictions, drastic curtailments, or very severe directions in reference to matters of supply. In this case the Government ran true to form. Apparently it ought to have been seen—or foreseen would perhaps be the more correct word— that the invasion of Europe which has since taken place was at least likely to take place in the early part of the summer months and that the arrangements consequent upon that would inevitably result, or might be expected inevitably to result, in a shortage of coal supplies to this country. I think we are entitled to know what steps were taken, if any, by the Government to meet the situation which they ought to have foreseen consequent upon matters which everybody, every intelligent person in the community, knew would affect the coal situation.
The Minister, I think, in his wireless broadcast, used the expression that the coal supply to the Electricity Supply Board has been entirely stopped. I would like to know from the Minister if that is a correct statement of the actual position. Has the coal supply to the Electricity Supply Board been entirely stopped? If so, when did that complete stoppage take place? If that complete stoppage has taken place, why was it that the Government did not foresee the likelihood of such complete stoppage taking place sometime before it actually took place? Again, I should like to know what steps the Government propose to take in reference to that matter of complete stoppage of supplies. The Minister stated, apparently, that from some source, there would be at least a restricted supply of fuel or coal, presumably from Great Britain, and he stated that that restricted supply would be allocated or applied in connection with certain essential food supply firms and other essential industries. I think we are entitled to ask, and to get a reply from the Minister, as to whether he or his Government is the authority that has in the last resort to state to what purpose any supplies of coal or fuel that may come into this country are to be applied. We wish to know whether it is the authority supplying that coal or that fuel which allocates or designates the particular purpose for which those supplies are to be applied in this country or whether it is the Minister or one or other of his Departments is to be the authority determining the application of whatever fuel supplies are available.
One of the announcements which caused or will cause very great hardship, which it is exceedingly difficult to see how it can be obviated, is his again very sudden announcement that those people who were entirely dependent for their domestic purposes on cookers—such as the Esse or Aga or other cookers of that kind, which depend upon anthracite, would get not one single particle of anthracite in future to enable them to carry on their domestic concerns. It seems incredible that such a situation could not have been foreseen. For some time past a meagre allowance of anthracite has been made to people who depend entirely for domestic purposes upon cookers of that description, and who had neither, electricity nor gas nor any range which could be operated other than by means of anthracite. They were given this meagre ration and were enabled to carry on. Without being given any opportunity of making any possible arrangements whatsoever, without being given any warning that from a meagre ration which enabled them to carry on in the absence of any other possible source of supply for the essential requirements of their homes, they were suddenly told: "You will have nothing." At least, the electricity consumer was given something out of the wreck. The household that was a good electricity consumer in the year 1941 will get at least a ration based upon that basic consumption. The person who has gas installed in his house is entitled to a supply of gas during a limited period of hours, but the person who relied entirely upon this one source and who was encouraged by the attitude of the Government, and very properly encouraged by the attitude of the Government, to rely entirely and solely upon that source of supply, namely the anthracite that was rationed and given to him, is given no opportunity of making alternative arrangements for the domestic requirements of his household. From a position where he could carry on, he is faced, as a result of the announcement over the wireless, with the problem of having no possible source of supply.
It may be said that the unfortunate citizens who have found themselves in this position ought to have endeavoured and should endeavour to solve the problem themselves. The only possible way they can solve it is by resort to something in the nature of a turf range. That involves people who can ill-afford it in capital expenditure of a very serious nature. Already they had incurred very serious expenditure in installing these other cookers. Now they are faced with this additional expenditure and when they have made that additional expenditure, they are then faced with the situation where, apparently, they will get no additional turf over and above the ordinary ration that is given to consumers in the city, to enable them to cook their food in their own home. I can conceive no greater injustice than was announced by the Minister over the wireless, in the way it was done and in the effects of what he proposes to do. At all events, I think the Minister should make some announcement to-night that he proposes to mitigate the hardship for those people. They will have sufficient hardship in connection with capital expenditure of a very serious nature which will be forced on them as a result of this sudden decision of the Minister and they will have sufficient hardship in endeavouring to carry on their domestic arrangements with completely inadequate facilities, as they will be obliged to do.
I do not know why it was that the supply of anthracite suddenly dried up in this country. Could that not have been foreseen? Could no warning have been given to those whose households depend for their cooking and domestic requirements on these cookers? Could they not have been given some warning and is it intended that they are now to be left completely without anything, dependent upon a ration of turf which is entirely inadequate to meet their ordinary requirements or, if not entirely inadequate, at least barely adequate to meet those requirements? Now they are to be told: "You can do what you like; that is the position. From getting a ration of anthracite which was sufficient for your reasonable requirements, you are going to get nothing at all." Domestic consumers of electricity have a percentage of their electricity, if they have an electric cooker. Gas consumers, if they have a gas cooker, have got something.
These other people have got nothing and not merely will they have nothing now but they have got no opportunity of making alternative arrangements. I think this is the most serious part of the Minister's announcement, as indicating lack of foresight on his part and on the part of his Department in dealing with supply problems, that it was not foreseen, and apparently it ought to have been foreseen. It may have been foreseen but, of course, there was a general election and that may explain why it was that it was not until after the general election that this sudden announcement was made upon a startled public.
I do think we are entitled to call the attention of this House to the very serious nature of the Minister's announcement and to the manner in which he made it. He announced that trams were to go off. That may not create a very great hardship on the public. Steps, apparently, are being taken at all events to mitigate the hardships on the travelling public, who may be deprived of the means of transport hitherto supplied by the tramways, but what I should like to know from the Minister is what proposals he has in connection with those people who are employed in the tramways. There are drivers of trams who have given the best years of their lives in the service of the Dublin United Tramway Company and, subsequently, to the Dublin United Transport Company. Some of these can, possibly, be trained as bus drivers, but it is very likely that the supply of such drivers far exceeds the demand. There will be numbers of them who cannot be trained as bus drivers. Some of the conductors could be employed presumably on the buses that will run in place of the trams, but I should like to know from the Minister what proposals he has, or what proposals the Dublin United Transport Company has, for seeing that these people are not, after their years of service, put out of work and on to the unemployment fund. The drivers and the conductors are obvious persons who may suffer considerable hardship, if some steps are not taken to see that they are employed. There are also other persons whose livelihood depended on the existence of the tramways. They are the people who presumably were engaged in the maintenance of the trams and in connection with the mechanics of the trams and the electrical equipment of the trams. What steps will be taken to safeguard their livelihoods?
I cannot conceive that the Minister will allow the Dublin United Transport Company, which made very good profits out of the citizens of this State, particularly in recent years, to put out on the road old employees without any hope of further employment. It is only just a little over a week since the general election and I am not making this plea for any political reasons; but in all sincerity I certainly hope that the Dublin United Transport Company will be forced by the Minister, through whatever machinery or power he has, to see that these men who were depending for their livelihood on the trams will not be deprived of it.
I think we are entitled to know— and this is one of the last points, although by no means the least important, that I wish to raise—and the public are entitled to know what steps the Minister proposes to deal with the present situation. He has announced cuts in the electricity supply to domestic consumers which, in effect, mean that the vast majority of the domestic consumers of electricity are deprived of the use of electricity to a point where it is really no use to them. A very considerable number of them in this city were paying for their electricity generally on what is known as the valuation system. They are to pay the rental apparently to the Electricity Supply Board for current that they will not get. I want to know from the Minister if he is going to permit the Electricity Supply Board to continue a situation where the consumer is deprived, to all intents and purposes, of electricity and where, notwithstanding that deprivation, he is to be made pay for the electricity as if he got it. That is a question to which I think we are entitled to have an unequivocal reply.
The last matter to which I wish to refer is an important one. The Minister made this sudden and startling announcement which left people facing a very serious difficulty and a very serious situation fraught with hardship for many a family. Is the matter just to be left there? Are the public and the domestic consumers to be told: "There is no water in the Shannon. There is no coal coming in from England. We cannot do anything about the water in the Shannon and we do not propose to do anything about the coal from England. You have got to lump that situation because we either cannot or will not or do not intend to do anything about it"? I think we are entitled to have a clear and unequivocal reply from the Minister as to whether the Government propose to take steps of any kind to mitigate the hardship which has been caused by their lack of foresight in this matter. The Minister for Local Government and Public Health may laugh.
The Deputy has only a certain limited time.
I beg your pardon. Have I exceeded it?
The Minister for Local Government may purport to laugh, but it is no laughing matter for the consumers. As I have pointed out, it was well known that there had been very little water in the Shannon for months past. I ask why it was that the Government did not foresee and take steps to mitigate the hardship that was certain to arise in consequence of the lack of electricity due to the shortage of water: why it was that the Minister, foreseeing that there would be of necessity, having regard to the military operations which everybody knew were to take place in Great Britain, a shortage of coal, did not take steps in the matter. I want to know—and I want a clear answer to this question—what arrangements have been made with Great Britain about the supply of coal to this country. Has any Minister gone over to Great Britain to bargain with the undoubted bargaining power which we have at present? No Minister need go with his cap in his hand; no Minister need go to jeopardise our neutrality, which we heard so much about at the election. If they had the courage to go they could have got as much coal as they wanted from Great Britain, because Great Britain has treated us very generously in the matter of supplies for the past three or four years. We are entitled to know whether the Minister will take any steps, or whether he has taken any steps, by sending over one of his officials or any other responsible person to deal with that situation which has arisen in consequence of his lack of foresight. I think we are entitled to know whether we are just to be told over the wireless, instead of through Parliament: "There is the situation. We can do nothing about it. We do not intend to do anything about it." I think there are plenty of things that can be done. I think that the public will know that there are plenty of things that can be done and we are entitled to know what is going to be done.
There are one or two matters which I should like to raise in this discussion. I understand that a redundancy of employment in the Dublin United Transport Company was experienced some time ago and that, whilst the company undertook that they would carry a certain redundancy, they intimated at the same time that, if the redundancy was intensified by any later restriction of services, it was unlikely that the company would bear the redundancy. It looks as if we are to have a further redundancy now, because even the substitution of buses for trams will not take up the sag in employment which will arise out of the suspension of the tramway services.
As the Minister knows, many tramway drivers have given a lifetime to the driving of trams and it is not easy to switch them over to the task of driving buses. It is particularly difficult to utilise their services on the buses because of the general staffing position in respect of the supply of drivers for buses. It has been pointed out, and it is well known from an examination of the accounts of the Dublin United Transport Company, that it is a very prosperous undertaking. So much so that the House will be asked next week probably to pay the shareholders of the company 25/6 for shares which were issued at £1 and which some years ago were quoted on the Stock Exchange at as little as 7/6.
That has nothing to do with the motion.
I do not propose to waste more time on that because we can have it out on the Transport Bill. The Dublin United Transport Company is a wealthy undertaking. It has very considerable capital at its disposal. It has got a considerable earning capacity and the least the Minister ought to expect the company to do is to undertake to retain in employment the old employees who have given valuable service to the company and whose age is now such that it is unlikely that they can obtain alternative employment in industry generally or in any other type of transport service. If the emergency, so far as the shortage of electricity is concerned, is not likely to last long, that is not a heavy burden for the company. If it is an emergency which is likely to last for a considerable time, some effort ought to be made to steady employment for these people so that their organisation may have an opportunity of seeing what way the situation, which has been so suddenly thrust upon them, may be met.
A very considerable complaint has existed against the Electricity Supply Board for some years past by reason of the fact that their charges are based upon a flat rate or a valuation charge. The charges for many of the consumers are based on the valuation of the premises, plus a certain flat rate charge for any electricity which they consume, but they have been restricted in the use of electricity because of the frequent appeals by the Electricity Supply Board to curtail the consumption of current. Now a situation has arisen in which they are almost told that they must restrict still further, and to a degree which will impose intense hardship in many cases, their consumption of electricity as sold by the Electricity Supply Board. The Electricity Supply Board is a very wealthy undertaking, an enormously wealthy undertaking—from the point of view of capital invested, one of the few very wealthy undertakings in the country—and I put it to the Minister that it ought not to be allowed to continue to demand charges based on valuation when it is not now in a position to provide the amount of current it formerly provided for consumers.
In other words, if the contract between the consumer and the board provided for an unlimited use of electricity on the basis of a flat rate charge, the consumer making, as his price for that service, a payment based on the valuation of his premises, and if the board is not able to provide the amount of current on which the agreement was originally based, the Minister should insist that the board will reduce its valuation charge and thus share some of the burdens with the consumers. It would be most unfair if in present circumstances, with current consumption cut to the minimum, the Electricity Supply Board were allowed to get away with a demand on consumers for payment of the full valuation charge, especially as that demand is being made in circumstances which are now entirely different from those prevailing when the charge was originally introduced.
The third and last point I want to raise is the manner in which this announcement was made. Quite a considerable number of people in the city and elsewhere believe that this announcement could have been made much earlier, but that, for Party and political reasons, it was delayed, the purpose being to avoid shocking the serenity of the electors before polling day. The whole policy of the Minister and his Department has been if you have any announcement to make, make it as late as possible and shock the community as much as possible— the Minister apparently having some pathetic faith in the ability of the public to respond better, the more they are shocked by dramatic announcements.
It was quite obvious to anybody who lived in this country for months past that the water position in the Shannon must have been bad for a long time, but we did not hear a single word about the situation in the form of any Ministerial declaration until last week, when, the general election being over, we were told of the urgent necessity for a strict curtailment of electricity, on the one hand, and a suspension of the tramway services, on the other hand, as well as a general tightening up of the regulations governing the consumption of electricity and coal. It is hard to resist the conclusion that that announcement was deliberately delayed for political purposes, and that it could easily have been made much earlier, were it not that the Government probably did not want to court the unpopularity of having to make a statement of the kind at a time when some members of the Government were endeavouring to convince the electorate that this was a land flowing with milk and honey and all the happiness of normal peace times.
That scarcely arises on this motion.
No, the damage has been done. It does not arise now. This is a Parliament of the people, and if there is to be any respect for Parliament and the standing of Parliament in relation to the people the Minister might very easily have made such an announcement here. He might have delayed the announcement by two days, but on other occasions the Minister has left this House while it was sitting, has gone to the radio and has made an announcement which he declined to make in the House. There have been other cases where a bunch of the boys has been gathered under the aegis of a Fianna Fáil cumann in some hotel in town and an announcement of national policy has been made, and the public learned of this announcement of national policy, of changes in existing policy or alterations in a general line of policy, through the medium of a Fianna Fáil cumann instead of through the Parliament.
I put it to the Minister that the making of announcements in that way is not calculated to get co-operation so far as the people are concerned. I said the other day that the Opposition Parties are part of the Parliament and part of the nation, and, in a situation of this kind, when restriction may perhaps be inevitable, when difficulties may be unavoidable and when hardships may have to be met, it is very much better, from the Government point of view and from the national point of view, for the Government to take the House into its confidence and in that way try to get a national line-up to meet whatever difficulties are involved. I have pleaded for the acceptance of that point of view before, and, from the national point of view, it has much to commend it. It is very much better that all sections of the people, if hardships have to be faced, should know that they are not just hardships which are assumed by one Party to exist but that their existence is accepted by all Parties. I put it to the Minister that this ought to be the last occasion on which announcements are made in this way, and that in future, when the Minister wants co-operation, and the Government generally want co-operation in the economic field, they ought to take into their confidence the other Parties in the House and endeavour to get their co-operation in facing whatever hardships may have to be met. In that way, they will get a better national line-up against them. There will be no desire to make Party capital out of these hardships and no desire to induce the people to believe that they are avoidable, if in fact they are unavoidable, and in present circumstances, in face of difficulties such as those which now surround us, that is the obvious line of policy, the obvious line of procedure, which a statesmanlike Government should take.
An Ceann Comhairle resumed the Chair.
There has been a complaint about lack of foresight and forethought in connection with these shortages. Other speakers have referred to the valuation charge made by the Electricity Supply Board and I propose to refer only briefly to it. So far as the private consumer is concerned, he is now supposed to cut down his consumption to 20 per cent, or one-fifth of his 1941 consumption. If he is to get only one-fifth of the service, why should the charge remain the same? I suggest that it ought to be reduced. Another point which I should like to bring to the notice of the Minister is that all the small watt electric lamps seem to have disappeared. The 15-watt lamp is the smallest lamp one can get at present and that only with a great deal of difficulty. Five-watt and ten-watt lamps seem to have disappeared off the market. If this shortage had been foreseen, surely the Minister might have communicated the position to the manufacturers and have arranged for a supply, because, from the practical point of view, so far as passages and landings are concerned, the five-watt lamp would provide some light. Some of us wondered, as Deputy Norton wondered, whether the Shannon waited until after the election to dry up.
I wish some others did.
Surely it must have given some sign. I suppose it is the shortage which has brought about a recrudescence of many of the rumours. The rumour about the 1,000,000 tons of coal which the Government were supposed to have refused to take after the fall of France is again being spread.
It does not arise here.
As far as the Shannon scheme is concerned, it is not so long since the Government were describing it as a white elephant. I am afraid it is now only a white mouse. I do not know whether the Minister, in replying, will be able to let us know how far any post-war plans are advanced, or whether there is any prospect—I do not suppose there is—of getting any alleviation of the present position through them.
The next point to which I want to refer is the transport cuts. No doubt they are necessary, but of course the usual local injustices have been done. I might mention one place, the Hill of Howth, which used to be served by a tram. The tram has been taken off and replaced by a bus, which I think goes only as far as the Baily Lighthouse. That means that people on the Summit, hotels amongst others, have no service at all. Perhaps the Minister would look into that matter to see whether the bus could be made to cover the same route, so that those people on the Hill of Howth would have some service. Another matter to which I want to refer is the Dalkey line, on which I live. The trams have been replaced by buses, but the bus fares have come back with the buses. Surely it is not the people's fault that the trams had to be replaced by buses, and perhaps the Minister would tell us whether the tram fares might still be allowed to operate.
I also want to refer to the complete cut-off of special stoves such as the Aga and Esse cookers from anthracite coal. I should like to remind the Minister that many people installed those cookers because they knew that anthracite coal is a native product. Surely it is a poor return that those stoves, which burn a native product, should be cut off altogether. I suppose some drastic reductions have to be faced by the citizens due to this shortage of fuel and electric current. I should also like to ask the Minister whether he can tell us anything about the standstill Order on cement.
That is not related to transport or fuel.
Well, apparently the fuel has given out.
That might affect many industries, which cannot be discussed now.
Then I will only say that if the Minister can give us any information of any kind I would ask him to do so, because that matter will have quite as big an effect as the fuel shortage.
Dean Swift told us on one occasion, when advocating the use of the products of Irish industry, that we should burn everything from England except her coal. Fianna Fáil policy is on those lines; they refuse to burn English coal. I represent the premier coal-raising area, Castlecomer, Coanty Kilkenny, and I have gone to the trouble of ascertaining some figures of the reserves of coal in the Leinster coalfield, and in particular in the Castlecomer area. At the present time, according to the latest information, there are 13,000,000 odd tons of coal in the Firoda and Skehana districts. In the north-east district there are 27,000,000 odd tons, and in the southern district 32,000,000 tons, a total of 72,000,000 odd tons of coal. There are in addition reserves of No. 1 coal, 60,000,000 tons; and of No. 3 coal, 144,000,000 tons; and of No. 4 coal, nearly 7,000,000; making, with the reserves of No. 2 coal, a grand total of some 299,000,000 tons on reserve in the Leinster coalfield area. Those calculations are based on a very conservative formula of 1,500 tons per foot acre, and the figures I have given here are probably an under-estimate. I am putting it to the responsible Minister that the Government of this country, knowing those facts, have failed signally in their duty to develop the coal resources of this country so as to give a ration of coal to the people first of all of Kilkenny and secondly of the entire State. It is quite clear to my mind that the Government, at the outset of this war, gambled on one assumption, that the war was going to be a short one. That gamble did not come off, and they were faced then with the proposition: "We are in it now; how are we going to get out of it?" They refused to have any dealings with the British Government. Apparently they failed to approach them or negotiate the purchase of any coal from across the water, because we know that up to the fall of France coal was to be had by the million tons from across the water.
We had coal rationed in this country in 1940.
In 1941 coal could have been got from across the water.
I was in Northern Ireland in 1941——
They got five weeks' supply.
They got it in Northern Ireland in 1941. The Minister told us in his broadcast statement that our annual coal requirements were approximately 2,500,000 tons. I have given figures showing that we have about 300,000,000 tons of workable coal in the Castlecomer area. No steps whatever have been taken by the responsible Minister for Industry and Commerce or Supplies to increase the output of those coalfields. The Castlecomer quarries were left entirely to their own resources to increase the number of miners. I do not want to minimise the difficulties. I know it takes a considerable time to get a skilled miner to hew coal out of a mine. In normal times it would take two years to produce an expert miner, but in England they were able to call their men back from the army, put them into the mines, and train them in three to six months. Why could we not have done the same? We put men on the bogs from the Army Construction Corps. Why not consider putting them into the mines, and thus give us in Kilkenny and in the country generally a fair ration of coal? We feel very aggrieved about this matter in Kilkenny because not one ounce of coal goes into the homes there, although some 600 tons of coal leave us every day. It was the people of Kilkenny who maintained those mines in the past, and we are not getting one ounce of coal there now. In several parts of Kilkenny there is no turf fuel, and in several other parts there is no timber fuel. In Kilkenny City there is not even a saw mill for the cutting of logs. We are dependent upon the goodwill of the local mine owner in Castlecomer to give us logs, and they are not always available. I put it to the Minister that they should have made a serious effort to develop the Castlecomer area. I admit that there may have been some difficulty about machinery, but there is plenty of out-crop coal in Castlecomer which could be hewed out by a process of quarrying.
I was speaking to a worker last week who referred to a certain place not far from Castlecomer, and said that within one hour he took seven cwts. of good coal from the bank of a stream. That man assured me that there are hundreds of tons of coal there which could be got by a process of quarrying without any machinery whatever.
The same applies to several areas in the Castlecomer coalfield. I am sure the responsible Minister has heard of this place before. In Bilboa there is a seam of 15 inches of very good coal on the banks of a stream, which could be extracted by quarrying; at Clogrennan there is a one foot seam; at Aghanure, Coolcullen, and the Butt of the Ridge, there are outcrops of coal 14 inches deep, all of which could be got out by quarrying. At Firoda there are 100 acres which were never worked before, and no steps have been taken by this Government to develop those areas, although they took over Slieveardagh, where there are not nearly so good prospects, in April, 1941. There is coal at 80 feet in Broompark, Clogh, Castlecomer, a seam of 1' 7". Those are incontrovertible facts. The Minister told us in his broadcast statement that he proposed, in his post-war planning scheme for the expansion of electricity, to depend entirely upon turf-burning stations. About three tons of turf are the equivalent of a ton of Castlecomer anthracite, and I put it to the Minister, if he wants to develop electricity on the lines which he suggests, that the proper method is to provide an anthracite-burning station at or near the pitheads of Castlecomer and other areas, thus saving the cost of transit. A turf-burning station would be the most expensive system he could possibly embark upon. As to the Minister's powers, I am sure it is not necessary to point out to him that under the Constitution he has ample powers to take over those coalfields if necessary and to develop them. We may be told that there are private property rights and so on involved in all this, but we know that under the Constitution the Taoiseach gave the Government power to delimit those if the exigencies of the common good should at any time demand it. The Minister has ample powers, under the Emergency Powers Act, not only to take over and work those coalfields but if necessary to go into the business of selling and distributing the coal.
I suggest, in all seriousness, that the Minister should consider this question of outcrop coal. I am only asking for the normal development of outcrop coal, and not for anything else, and I suggest that the Minister should give serious consideration to this matter of giving permits to the people of Castlecomer and that vicinity to produce fuel for their own locality, and for the use of the nation so far as is possible. In this connection, I should also like to remind the Minister that several hundreds of coal carters have been put out of employment. For generations past, these carters have been in employment there. They are now out of employment, but if permits were supplied these carters would be able to continue in employment and supply consumers of coal in the neighbourhood.
There is one last point to which I should like to refer. I have been informed that the Forestry Department have acquired Grange Wood in County Kilkenny, and some other timber tracts in that neighbourhood, which, I am told, are not fit for ordinary timber purposes, and I suggest that that should be made available as free fuel for the people of Kilkenny or that, failing that, it should be given out at cost price. I say that because we feel that we have been badly treated in this matter. We feel that the local merchants and local shopkeepers have been very badly treated. For instance, in connection with the producers of lime, the local people have been cut to one-eighth, and I think that this whole business ought to be reviewed along the lines I have suggested, particularly with regard to the recent development of outcrop coal and the other matters I have mentioned.
Listening, Sir, to the speeches I have heard from Deputies Dockrell, Costello, and other Deputies, I am inclined to despair of getting the simplest facts understood by some Deputies, no matter how often they are reiterated. What is the sense of their saying that this situation was sprung suddenly upon the country, or that information was withheld from the people until after the general election, when everybody knew what the actual position was? On the 1st of March of this year, I broadcast a warning that we were facing a fuel crisis, that we had then barely enough fuel to serve essential industries, and that the smallest reduction in our fuel supply would produce a serious reaction on our circumstances economically, and I urged them to make the maximum effort in the production of turf and to exercise the utmost economy in the use of fuel. A fortnight after that, the Taoiseach reiterated what I said, and pointed out that the only possible way to meet the crisis was to increase the production of turf so far as we could, and to exercise the greatest economy we could in the use of fuel. Now, however, Deputy Costello sarcastically asks why, if we knew that there was only one-fifth of the normal supply of water at Ardnacrusha during March, the people were not told. On the 28th March, a severe rationing of electricity was introduced—so severe that we had a special debate in the Dáil on the matter. I do not mind Deputy Costello making these idiotic statements, because, during the last three or four months, he may have been asleep, but Deputy Norton was here in the Dáil, and he participated in the debates in connection with these electricity "cuts". On that occasion, we cut domestic electricity consumption by 50 per cent. The consumption of electricity for ordinary industrial purposes was cut by 15 per cent., and for traction purposes by 33? per cent. These cuts were consequent on the development of the serious position which emerged from the prevalence of the drought and the subsequent curtailment of fuel supplies during the month of April.
I cannot make even a guess at the motives of Deputies opposite in trying to get the public to believe that these facts were not announced in time, and that no warning was issued to the public. These warnings began to be issued to the public early in March. Deputies were told about the position, and must have been aware of it. What I said at that time was reiterated by the Taoiseach. During the debate in April, I warned Deputies that the situation was serious, and that it might become more serious. It is nonsense for Deputies to say now that this thing came on them without warning or that no steps were taken to safeguard against the situation. In April of this year we imposed certain "cuts" on the transport by railway of goods and passengers. We reduced railway passenger trains to two days a week, and goods trains to four days a week. In the light of that, I do not know what Deputies were doing during that period, or since, that should make them completely ignorant of the facts, or render them capable of making statements such as they have just made. We imposed these cuts upon the consumption of electricity in April last. We imposed these restrictions on rail traffic in April last.
Is that right? Was the date for the imposition of the cuts not May 1st?
The advertisement by the Electricity Supply Board announcing the restrictions in the consumption of electricity to which I have referred ——
As from the 1st May?
—appeared in the newspapers on the 28th March.
As from what date?
These cuts were in operation when the Dáil debated the subject on the 20th April. These cuts in rail traffic and in electricity consumption were based on various assumptions. The first assumption was that we would receive in this year from Great Britain 50 per cent. of the quantity of coal received last year. As I told the public over the radio in March and the Dáil in April, we got from Britain barely enough coal to meet the requirements of essential services last year and in this year we had to face a situation in which we were going to get one-half the quantity of coal we were getting last year. It was on that basis that the cuts which came into operation in April were decided upon. It was assumed then that the drought would shortly end and that we would experience a normal rainfall. We based our arrangements upon calculations as to the quantity of coal that would be required to maintain the reduced rail services and the reduced supplies of gas and electricity which, in the event, proved to be somewhat optimistic.
It was necessary for me to announce last week that there had been a further and very serious deterioration in our coal supply position and that further restrictions in the use of coal and electricity were necessary. I want to say that the contention made by Deputy Costello and Deputy Norton that a member of the Government should inform the public of the development of an economic crisis—which affects them vitally and which may produce hardship which can only be mitigated by the utmost co-operation on their part—only through the Dáil and not directly over the wireless, is preposterous. I doubt if such a suggestion were ever seriously made in any other Parliament. I think it so preposterous that I do not think it necessary to assure Deputies that I have not the slightest intention of acting in accordance with that suggestion. On any occasion on which I think a useful national purpose can be served by telling the public what a particular situation is and how they can ease it, I propose to do so.
I gave to the public in the course of my broadcast talk last week a fairly full picture of the situation. I tried to make the picture as full as possible in the time available to me and I wanted to leave them under no misapprehension as to how serious it was. I do not doubt that I did succeed in convincing the public that there was a serious situation. If I did not succeed in convincing Deputy Costello or Deputy Norton it was not my fault; I did my best. I pointed out that since April last our coal imports have been substantially less than we had expected. The total available supplies of coal in sight for the year ahead are less than the minimum requirements of rail transport on the present restricted basis and for gas and electricity production even on the reduced scale now contemplated and for other essential industries. The deficiency in coal requirements for these essential services alone is in the neighbourhood of 100,000 tons. We may be able to balance that deficiency by diverting to these services and industries the whole of our stocks of turf briquettes and the reserve stocks of timber which have been accumulated since the war began. I should like to say how glad I am that I resisted the pressure which came from all Parties to dissipate these timber stocks for domestic use during last winter. They are now available and are required for the maintenance of essential industries and services.
I realise as well as Deputy Costello how serious it is for domestic users of anthracite, who have no other means of cooking except anthracite cookers or stoves, that they should not now be able to get further supplies of that coal. I think that the facts that I have given supply the answer to any representations that may be made in that connection. These services and industries to which I have referred are those which are essential to the whole community. This community cannot be carried on without them. Rail transport on the present reduced basis, gas supply on the present basis, the electricity supply on the basis that will operate during the rest of this month, the food producing industries such as milling industries, bakeries and creameries, will not be able to get, from the coal we are going to import and the coal we can produce here or have now available, their minimum requirements.
I am sure nobody will seriously suggest that we should further subtract from the supplies of coal available even for the purpose of meeting the needs, the very reasonable needs, of domestic consumers. Nor can these domestic consumers of anthracite claim that they did not, like everyone else, get warning of the situation that was arising. The appeals that the Taoiseach and I made to private individuals to go out and cut turf for their own use, not to be relying on the ability of the State to provide a turf ration, and to try to get turf for their own requirements, were directed as much to the owners of Esse and Aga cookers as to any other class in the community. For all the industries in the country, other than those to which I have referred, there is no coal in sight, no fuel. I want Deputies to appreciate how serious the situation of these industries employing tens of thousands of workers is. They are producing commodities which are necessary, though not now classified as essential. For them there is no fuel in sight at the moment. We are discussing plans to make turf available to them, but there are very substantial problems of production and transport yet to be solved before I can say that it will be possible to make any turf available for industrial use over and above the turf required for the maintenance of the domestic ration. I do not want to say it will be impossible, but quite clearly we contemplated a maximum production of turf here for the national pool and its transportation to the non-turf area to the fullest extent our transport facilities will permit. We have now got to revise these plans so as to make available some 200,000 tons additional to what we previously considered possible in order to supply some fuel to second-line industries.
The scarcity of coal and fuel of all other kinds is, of course, the primary cause of the scarcity of electricity but associated with that scarcity of coal we have had this abnormal period of drought. This has been the driest year recorded for 70 years past. The inflow of water at Ardnachrusha was such that in the month of March it was only one-fifth of the normal inflow for that month; in the month of April it was one-third and in the month of May it fell again to one-fifth of the normal inflow for the month. I do not want Deputies to think that if there had been a normal inflow of water we would not still be at the present time faced with the necessity of seriously curtailing the consumption of electricity. It is mistakenly believed by many people that we can produce all our electricity requirements by water power alone. We cannot. In a normal year, at this time of the year, no less than 60 per cent. of the output of electricity comes from steam stations and only 40 per cent. from the water power station. Coal supplies to the Electricity Supply Board have been stopped entirely. They have been stopped entirely despite the fact that we have to depend, as to 60 per cent., on steam stations for electricity output and are facing this very abnormal drought which makes the production of electricity by water power almost impossible. How long that situation is going to continue I do not know.
The Government will be able to make some supplies of coal available to the Electricity Supply Board. We have certain reserve stocks which were accumulated in the past. There are stocks held by other coal consumers that can be taken over for this purpose. By that means we can make available to the Electricity Supply Board a certain supply of coal. If the Electricity Supply Board utilises all the coal that can be made available to them, so far as we can see, for 12 months ahead, in the period from this to 1st October, depending entirely on water power after 1st October for the rest of the year, the maximum consumption of electricity during that period to the 1st October must be reduced to an average of 11,400,000 units per month. That is the maximum production which will be possible to us. It will help Deputies to appreciate the very serious curtailment of electricity consumption that that involves when I tell them that our consumption during the month of May, even with the restrictions imposed on the 28th March last in full force, was 19,000,000 units. It is obvious that a very drastic curtailment of electricity consumption cannot be avoided.
The various restrictions announced by the Electricity Supply Board were adopted by them on my direction. Deputy Costello had, apparently, some doubts as to whether or not I was taking responsibility for the proposals published by the Electricity Supply Board. I am taking full responsibility for them. The general principles upon which I decided how best to use the available supply of electricity were these—that I should, in the first place, keep the essential industries going at all costs. These essential industries are at present receiving 125 per cent. of their normal electricity requirements. Everybody knows that we are using more flour than we did in normal times. Other essential industries have to be kept going even to a greater extent than was the case pre-war. I refer to the milling industry, the bakeries, the creameries, certain other food-producing industries and local authorities operating pumping stations in connection with waterworks and sewerage schemes. These will continue to be supplied with their full requirements. We shall endeavour to secure rigid economy—that wherever possible the use of electric power will be avoided by those industries but, to whatever extent they need power, they will get it, so that the production of those essential supplies will not be interrupted. The second principle on which I proceeded was that we should divert to other industries all the power reasonably possible. These other industries are not only producing necessary goods but upon them a great deal of employment depends. To the maximum extent possible, I decided that we should endeavour to meet their power requirements in order to enable them to maintain their output and continue to provide employment. It was on the basis of these principles that the proposals which have been announced for the month of June were devised.
I want to emphasise that these proposals relate to the month of June only, because, apart altogether from the prospect of improvement in the weather from the point of view of the Electricity Supply Board, there are considerations which will make a revision of the whole distribution scheme necessary in the subsequent months. The first and most important of these considerations is that we decided in this month to stop the production of cement entirely. The cement factories are by far the biggest single users of electricity. They consume no less than 2,000,000 units per month. By stopping the production of cement completely during the present month, we can make available for use in this month the 2,000,000 units of electricity which the cement factories would otherwise have required. We can do that because there is available a reserve stock of cement capable of meeting requirements during the present month. By the reduction of the supply of electricity for domestic lighting and general purposes to 20 per cent. of 1941 consumption, we can save 2,000,000 units. By reduction of the supply of electricity for cooking by 50 per cent., we can save 1,300,000 units. By the elimination of water heating, we can save 1,100,000 units. By reduction this month of the supply of electricity used by ordinary industries from 85 per cent. to 75 per cent. of the 1943 figure, we can save 600,000 units. By the elimination of the trams and all other forms of electric traction, which include certain battery-driven vehicles, we can save 400,000 units. We hope to effect a further saving of 200,000 units upon public lighting and upon the use of electricity by the Electricity Supply Board itself for various purposes. That saving effects the necessary reduction, as compared with last month, from 19,000,000 units to 11,400,000 units, and there is no possibility of increasing that output. As I emphasised already by the decision to use the whole of the coal that can be made available to the Electricity Supply Board for 12 months from this to the 1st October, we are gambling that weather conditions will permit us from the 1st October to go over altogether to water power and to meet the whole electricity requirements of the country from water power only.
Deputy Dockrell was perturbed regarding the shortage of low-power lamps, and referred to the lack of foresight shown in this connection. May I remind him of the efforts made by him and his Party to prevent us from having a lamp at all in the country? If there was one industry which they did their best, during the campaign which they started, to sabotage, it was the industry which is now producing electric lamps. If it had not been established then and if we had not persisted in maintaining it, despite the efforts of Deputies opposite, we should have no lamps at all. I do not know what the prospects are of obtaining increased supplies of coal from the United Kingdom. I should say that it would be wishful thinking to base any plans on the hope that we shall get increased supplies from that source. Let me say, in view of the rumours circulated by Deputies opposite, who appear to specialise in such occupation, that, from the day the war started, there was not one ton of coal offered to an importer here from an English source which was not imported.
For a very short period after the fall of France, there was a possibility of getting some coal from Great Britain. A certain number of ships, loaded with coal for France, had their sailings stopped by Admiralty order and, for two or three weeks before the situation was got under control again by the British authorities, we could get a fortuitous supply of coal. Every single ton of coal we could get during that period was imported. There was difficulty in handling all the coal we could get by reason of congestion at the ports. So great was that congestion that I went to the broadcasting station and broadcast a statement informing the public of this temporary offering of coal which we were in danger of losing because of congestion at the ports. All the fuel merchants' yards were full and I asked industrial and other users of coal to facilitate the country in getting all the coal possible by placing orders and moving the coal out of the coal merchants' yards. What happened? On every occasion on which a Deputy on the Bench opposite spoke on that subject since, he misrepresented that advice. He tried to give the impression that my advice to citizens to order all the coal possible was a hint to wealthy people to stock up their coal cellars while the going was good.
Did they not take your advice?
They did not. Every single ton of coal removed from a fuel merchant's yard at that period was replaced by another ton which could not have been imported if the fuel had not been moved out of the yard. I do not want to say much about the production of native coal. Deputy Coogan has got some fantastic figures in that regard.
They are not fantastic.
I do not care anything about the millions of tons underground. What matters is the number of tons we can get out of the ground, and the number of tons depends on the number of workings open, the number of skilled workers available, as well as the machinery they have to use. If Deputy Coogan has any doubt about the difficulties of training additional workers, and putting them into production in the mines, let him go to Castlecomer and discuss the matter with mine managers and the men who actually go down the mines. They have very naturally an objection to any consider able increase in the number of workers that are regarded as skilled to work underground, and certainly have no intention of facilitating any lowering of the standards of skill required for the industry. Certain standards of skill are laid down by law. We have modified the standards of training, and the trade unions concerned agreed to the modification after considerable hesitation. It was with considerable hesitation I proposed it. Even with reduced standards, the output of native coal is limited by the number of workers available. During the course of last month there were numerous conferences with the mine managers, with trade unions representing the mine workers, and with the mine workers to consider ways and means by which the output of coal could be increased either by increasing the men working in the mines or the equipment available. We have increased the output of native coal since the war started by 60 per cent. I appealed over the wireless for the maximum co-operation between managers and workers in order to increase the output, but I think it would be foolish to assume that there are available to us any means by which we can get any substantial increase in coal production in this country.
This is a very critical situation. I do not want to minimise it. It is critical, and the future prospects look, if anything, worse still. There is at present no sign of the drought breaking. Even if it did, we could not attempt to use the water, because we must fill the Shannon storage before October 1st when the whole of the coal supplies that can be made available to the Electricity Supply Board will be gone and we will have to maintain the necessary supplies of electricity from water. This is not an occasion for wishful thinking. We have made representations to the United Kingdom authorities. What the outcome of those representations may be I cannot attempt to forecast, but the authorities in this country must make their plans upon the assumption that the situation will not improve. In estimating the position that will face us during the coming months we must allow common sense to prevail. In preparing an estimate of the quantity of coal that will be available I have been as optimistic as common sense will permit. It may prove that I was too optimistic, because even the reduced supplies of coal which the authorities in the United Kingdom thought some time ago they could make available to us have not, in fact, been arriving in recent weeks. I do not think there is any other matter that I wish to refer to, unless any Deputies wish to ask any questions.
Could the Minister do something about the valuation charges?
Arising out of Deputy Norton's question I should like to say that, in the course of a broadcast, I said:—
"The widespread disemployment of workers must, if at all possible, be avoided; reduced production and increased costs must not be reflected in higher prices of commodities. The Government is appealing to all employers to maintain the employment and remuneration of their workers for the maximum period that their resources will permit, until the situation clarifies itself and the measures which the Government may be able to devise will have come into effect."
I feel certain that the management of Cement Limited, the Dublin Transport Company and other employers will be prepared to act on that advice.
I want to query one thing the Minister said. It may be that there was a mistake in a newspaper report, but from a date in May last month restrictions were announced by the Electricity Supply Board. I understood the restrictions were to be 50 per cent.
That was announced in the newspapers of March 29th.
It may be that there was a mistake in the report in the newspaper which I have, but the Electricity Supply Board announced restrictions from 1st May and I think it was on that day restrictions were imposed. I understood the restrictions imposed were 50 per cent.
They were announced in the newspapers on March 29th. The announcement stated that, as from Saturday, 1st April, the restrictions would have effect.
It may be that the date in the newspaper from which I am reading was wrong. The fundamental fact is that March according to the Electricity Supply Board statistics is ordinarily the best month from the point of view of water flowing into the Shannon. This year the flow was one-fifth of the normal. The third best month of the year dropped to one-fifth. The next month was a fairly good month but it could not be reckoned as high and dropped to one-third this year. The first time the public were told of these two significant facts was the other night. That is what is complained of. The Minister knows that the output of electricity depends on a mixture of water and coal. The water failed. The Minister knew that it had failed in the third best month. He knew that at the end of that month the position could not be bettered in the next month, which normally was a good month. They let us drift into what are the second and third worst months of the year before making a statement. He was hoping that the drought would break. Whether it broke or not, on the average July is the worst month of the year from the point of view of the flow of water.
The Minister knew from the situation which developed in 1939, that people were using various supplies of power and were depending on the Shannon. From 1939 consumption rose. What the Shannon can supply in any year in which water supply is normal is something in the region of 300,000,000 units. Consumption has risen to 400,000,000 units, and at one time last year it rose to 413,000,000 units. The Minister knew that the Shannon was able to supply 300,000,000 units, and there was a demand for 150,000,000 units from coal. What did he do? As far as the statistics, which were made available by the late Deputy Hugo Flinn in 1939, show, there were five weeks' supply of coal here and in 1940, six weeks' supply. The Minister stated that he appealed to the people for co-operation as if he could not have piled coal on the quaysides.
Coal was piled on the quaysides.
A special organisation was set up to do so.
Five weeks' supply from the efforts of the Minister. Next we had Poulaphouca, which is now a grand reservoir but we probably will not get one unit of electricity from it until the war is over. At the end of 1940 the substitute Minister came in with a turf station at Clonsast. In reply to a question we were told that it would use 46,000 tons of peat. There is no fuel station there yet. The situation was let drift on, and, at the end, the Minister says that we are now depending on native fuel. During the election the Minister boasted that a fuel station was to be erected at the Pigeon House to be fed with anthracite coal, I suppose, or turf from Clonsast. That was the boast during the election, a fuel station at the Pigeon House. We are going to depend in future on native fuel and then we get to this, that we put the trams off the streets and use vehicles running on imported Diesel oil. Would the Minister tell us what are the stocks of Diesel oil, and how are the buses off for tyres, or are we gambling on something happening in a couple of months to ease the situation with regard to Diesel oil and tyres? The Minister had 12 years in which to plan and the plan is a reservoir at Poulaphouca, with no electricity, and that fantastic scheme for the production of power through peat at Clonsast.
The Minister told us that, of the 120,000 tons which were to be reached from the bog, only half had been got with three machines, and that the other three were on order. There was to be an economic price of 10/6, but the best we have got is 45/6. Yet, that is what we have been walked into. According to the Minister, we are going to have more fuel stations run by peat at a cost of something nearer £2 10s. per ton than anything else. That is the position that we have got into after 12 years. It was only in June that we got the statement of fundamental importance to the nation that the water supply of the Shannon had gone down to the two points mentioned in the two months March and April. Of course, there was a very good reason why that could not be said in May.
The Dáil adjourned at 9.2 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Tuesday, 13th June, 1944.