In the House this afternoon, I asked the Minister for Agriculture:—
"Whether, arising out of the strike at the sugar beet factories, it is proposed to compensate beet growers for losses and deterioration in their crops; and if he will advise farmers and growers of the terms of the compensation to be offered."
The question was a very straight one. In the Minister's absence, his colleague, the Minister for Finance, replied:—
"I understand that this question has been raised with Cólucht Siúicre Éireann by the Beet Growers' Association on behalf of the growers".
I have been compelled to raise this matter to-night because of the vital importance of this question to the beet growers. There is not the least sign of a guarantee in the Minister's reply, nor is there any hope in it of compensation to the farmers for the loss of the beet crop, nor is there any information in the reply as to how they are to dispose of it. Surely the Minister is aware that in 1945 there were 84,500 acres under sugar beet and in 1946, 78,200, showing a decrease of 6,300 acres. Surely there would be no reason for that decrease if the farmers were not treated with the same contempt to-day as in the past. If I am not very far out, there will be no beet whatever next year. The farmer who would put it into the ground under present circumstances would be fit for a lunatic asylum.
It was a crime and an offence if a certain amount of ground was not put under root crop. In my part of the country beet is the principal root crop. If they did not sow it, they were branded as criminals and compelled to do so. Now, when they have it ready to go into the factories, the conditions in the factories have resulted in the beet being left on their hands. It has been pulled and crowned and left by the roadside to rot, or where it is available for all live stock to eat it; or it is on the railway station platforms, open to all kinds of weather. Sugar is a necessity of life, and when the people were called upon by the Government to grow beet, the least they should be offered is a guarantee of some return for their sweat, their labour and their time.
I am glad Deputy Martin Corry is in the House, as he is chairman of the Beet Growers' Association. If he is sincere—and I believe he is, where the interests of the beet growers are concerned—he will have the courage to stand up, if this treatment continues, and advise the farmers not to grow beet until they are guaranteed better conditions.