Deputy de Valera raised in this debate yesterday the grave international situation which has recently developed and the possible consequences to this country if that situation should deteriorate for the purpose of securing, if possible, an indication of the Government's viewpoint as to the preparatory measures which might now be taken in the interest of our security. I do not suppose that the Government have any information concerning the situation and its possible development which is not available to the general public through Press reports. Nobody is deceived, I hope, by the suggestion made yesterday by the Minister for Defence that the Government have available to them secret sources of information which enable them to come to judgments on the position and which are not available to the public. If any Deputy has been misled by that suggestion, I should like that the Taoiseach, in fair ness to the House and to the country, would correct that position. Certainly, no Deputy who had the responsibility of being a member of the Government during the crisis which preceded the second world war and during the course of that war can have any doubts on the matter or any illusions concerning the accuracy or the purpose of the Minister for Defence's statement. The Minister for Defence was, I think, attempting to bluff the House in an attempt to justify what appears to be the policy of inactivity upon which the Government have decided.
There is no likelihood that any deterioration in the international situation which might create a crisis for this country will be so heralded in advance that there will be ample time for the Government here to take preparatory steps of any value. It is very undesirable that in considering this grave matter Deputies should be not misled by childish statements of that kind. Whatever the Government may believe, there is no doubt that the general public believe that this international situation is likely to develop sooner or later into a general war unless something unexpected happens. It is similar in many of its aspects to the situation in 1938. It is, perhaps, even more grave than that which existed in 1938. The preparation of the national economy, the preparation of our defences against the consequences of a deterioration in the position, are such urgent matters that they must be the predominant aim of Government policy in all Departments at present.
I do not want to be taken as suggesting that it is possible for us to do a great deal in a short time by way of preparation. Something can be done in the field of defence and something can be done in other fields, but it is beyond doubt that, if a crisis should develop quickly, it is already too late to do much that, on the conclusion of the last war, we thought should be done against such a situation developing in the future. In the field of defence, something can be done. Again, it is possible to exaggerate what can be done. We here have not attempted to urge upon the Government any course that would appear to be impracticable, or that would be suggestive of undue alarm. We think it is practicable to bring the Defence Forces of this country up to the strength which the Army Command deemed to be the minimum strength which would permit of the creation of an organisation capable of rapid expansion if the need arose. The Army is not at that strength now.
We have been treated by the Government, and particularly by the Minister for Defence, with contempt whenever this question of defence policy has been raised. Figures have been given by Ministers which are known to be inaccurate and contradictory statements have been made, according to the political needs of the moment. There is no Deputy who can feel that he can place any reliance upon a statement made by the Minister for Defence on important aspects of defence policy. The Minister endeavoured to represent the view of this Party as including the mobilisation of reserve and volunteer forces and the placing of these forces on a permanent basis in barracks and camps. We do not think that course is necessary and we have not suggested it. The fact that the Minister for Defence considered it desirable to endeavour to misrepresent the point of view expressed from these benches is itself a factor in the situation which we should take into account, because it justifies the conclusion that no serious consideration has been given to this matter by him or by the Government and that their sole concern, when the matter is raised, is to escape any political difficulty it may cause them. This policy of bluff and pretence is a poor substitute for that for which the situation calls.
The Minister yesterday took a different line from that which he took upon the debate on the Estimate for Defence. On that occasion, he appeared anxious to advertise the weakness of our defence position. He spoke about driblets of armaments procurable from abroad. Subsequently, the Minister for External Affairs spoke abroad about the obsolete and inefficient weapons we were procuring, and generally he and his colleagues have taken a line which appears to suggest that they do not believe the defence of this country by its own citizens to be a practicable proposition. It may be that there are practical difficulties at present in procuring up-to-date armaments in adequate quantities; it may be that there are other problems in extending the size of the military organisations of the State; but more important than these matters is the promotion amongst our people of the will to defend our freedom, of the realisation that the obligation to defend it rests upon them. More important than these matters is the need to make it known abroad that it is national policy here to accept fully ourselves the obligation of our own defence.
The line taken by the Government appears to run counter to that idea and that is the reason why we are so seriously perturbed concerning it. After the speech made yesterday, it is obvious that the Minister for Defence is an unsuitable occupant of that post. If the situation should deteriorate necessitating action by the Government—the expansion of our defence forces and the calling to the defence of the country of its young men—then the enthusiasm that will answer that call will be considerably diminished by the highly partisan line taken yesterday by the Minister for Defence and the obvious incompetence which has characterised his whole administration.
I have said that outside the field of defence there is not much that can be done by way of preparation against an emergency that may come soon. But it may not come soon, and it is obviously desirable that we should begin now in the economic and financial fields, whatever preparations are possible, hoping that either the crisis will not develop at all or that we will be given time to bring these preparations to completion. There are many respects in which our position now is better than it was in 1938. Let me confess that in 1938, the preparations made against the possibility of war proved in the event to be inadequate. We underestimated the magnitude of the conflict that was coming and its duration. We were perhaps unduly influenced by the views then held in many quarters that war, if it came, would be confined to the Continent of Europe and that modern armaments would make it necessarily of short duration. We made preparations, however, which were of value and there is available to the Government now all the experience accumulated by the officers in charge of these preparations. They know to what extent our arrangements proved satisfactory and to what extent they proved unsatisfactory, and that fund of experience available to the Government is of immense importance.
When the previous Government in 1938 was faced with this problem, it was something that was new in this country. It was the first time in our history that an Irish Government was given that task and it had to proceed largely by trial and error. It is not necessary to take that course now because the knowledge then gained is available to our successors.
During the course of the war, the then Taoiseach, Deputy de Valera, gave instructions to all Ministers who were charged with responsibility for any of the war-time arrangements to record the measures taken, with a brief account of their development and a note of the improvements that might be tried on another occasion. In preparing that war record for our successors, we hoped that it would not be opened for 20 or 25 years, at the earliest, and we were thinking that far ahead in placing our experience on the files. But, it is time now that it was opened. Perhaps it is being opened. Perhaps arrangements are in train which will ensure that unnecessary delay will be avoided when positive steps have to be taken but, if they are, we want to know it. We think the people of the country would be reassured if they were so informed.
What must be the aim of Government policy in that matter? Clearly, we must try to secure by measures taken now that if an international crisis following a spread of war should develop quickly we will have available here essential supplies in sufficient quantity to maintain reasonable distribution of consumption goods on the one had, for a period, and important industrial activities, on the other hand. The Government has in existence the nucleus of a rationing scheme. I assume that it is not necessary now to go through the preliminary steps which had to be taken in 1940, the preparation of a national register and the compilation of the other particulars which had to be available before ration books could be put in the hands of citizens. Ration books are in the hands of citizens now. Presumably, therefore, the extension of rationing to any goods which should be necessary is practicable without delay.
We know that the area under wheat is larger than it was in 1938, that the knowledge of tillage and the implements necessary for tillage exist, or should exist, in wider areas of the country than was the case in 1938. The only thing that is in doubt is the attitude of the Minister for Agriculture and of the Government generally in relation to the general question of agricultural policy and its direction towards the primary aim of ensuring the food supplies of our own people.
It is desirable that we should have that minimum of essential supplies within the country, supplemented by arrangements, if possible, to procure additional supplies from abroad, not merely for the purpose of protecting the welfare of our own people in time of an emergency, but also to give us the necessary breathing space to consider any political problems that the outbreak of a general war might cause for us.
In the agricultural field, and particularly in the industrial field, any extension of activity which would increase our security in time of war will take a long time. It is necessary that members of the Government and Deputies should face up to that fact.
I have already recounted here on another occasion the serious gaps in our industrial organisation which our war-time experience showed to exist and urged upon the Government that it should so direct its industrial policy as to close these gaps as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, the Government have taken the course of farming out its responsibility for industrial policy to an outside authority, the socalled Industrial Development Authority. I warned the Government when they took that course that they were depriving themselves of the power to take speedy and effective action and experience during the past two years has shown that warning to be justified.
If there is to be a positive direction of Government activity in the industrial field, with a view to making our industrial organisation more secure in time of war, then the Industrial Development Authority will have to be put in cold storage until that emergency is over and the Minister for Industry and Commerce and his Department will have to take responsibility for direct action in that matter.
All the indication so far has been that, instead of directing industrial policy with the ultimate aim of creating a viable industrial policy that can operate in any international circumstances, the Government is doing the reverse. The specific instances in which Government policy has moved contrary to the national interests have been frequently mentioned here. The particular projects that were in train for the establishment under Córas Iompair Éireann auspices at Inchicore of a factory for the manufacture of motor vehicles, the proposed factory for the manufacture of aeroplane parts and for aeroplane construction, the proposed factory at Limerick for the manufacture of railway wagons, and numerous other projects, less important perhaps, but all necessary to the completion of industrial organisation, have been dropped by the Government for no good reason except that hasty decisions were taken during the first months of the Government's office and they have not now the moral courage to admit that these decisions were wrong and to reverse them.
Deputy Corry raised here yesterday the practicability of extending the steel works at Cobh. Nothing is necescessary to effect that extension to include the manufacture of steel sheets which are necessary for a number of industrial purposes, except three things —the technical knowledge, which can be procured if it is not available—it is perhaps already available—the necessary finance and the decision of the Government. In that particular case, the co-operation of outsiders is not necessary. The industry is controlled by the Government under a board composed of civil servants. Why there has been the long delay in extending activities at Haulbowline, I am unable to understand.
In the textile field we know that the whole industry of weaving woollen goods and the spinning of woollen yarn was incomplete without the wool combing plant which had not yet been established before the last war and which is not established yet. In the other branches of the textile industry, cotton spinning, although a beginning was made in 1947 at Athlone, is still completely inadequate to maintain activity in the weaving mills.
In almost every industrial field there is some critical gap which must be filled before the industries in that field can continue to operate in circumstances in which supplies from abroad may be cut off or curtailed. The most important gap of all is in the chemical industry. We had, in recognition of the importance of the industrial chemical industry, enacted the legislation here in 1947 to establish, under Government auspices, a company, Céimicí Teoranta, specifically charged to facilitate the establishment of that industry and particularly to undertake the commercial researches necessary to enable decisions to be made as to the most practicable methods. I have mentioned here in the course of the debate on the Estimate for the Department of Industry and Commerce that the total expenditure shown in the accounts of that company during the past financial year on that important aspect of its responsibilities was £600. That, however, is not the only field in which preparations are possible.
We entered the last war period with no shipping organisation capable of carrying on a regular service for ships over deep waters. We built up that organisation during the war and it was invaluable to the people of this country. For a period of three years no foreign ship entered our ports from across the Atlantic or from other distant countries. Before the end of the war, or shortly after it, the Government then in office took a decision that the fleet of Irish Shipping, Limited, should be extended to the size regarded as the minimum necessary to carry the essential imports of this country in circumstances in which other ships would not be procurable. That policy has also been reversed. The ships which were ordered in pursuance of it have been delivered. No new ships have been ordered since. During the last war our experience was that the only limiting factor in procuring essential food supplies was our ability to carry them in our own ships. Up to the end of hostilities, while a large part of the world was shut off from its normal sources of supply by military action, the supplies were procurable easily enough. The only restriction upon their delivery here was our capacity to provide shipping.
After the end of the war, that situation changed. With the opening up of Europe and the revelation of the appalling conditions that existed in many European countries, the demands upon the available supplies increased and, naturally, the proportion available to us was curtailed. Shipping became available but the supplies were not there and it was in that period after the war that we encountered our most acute difficulties. It seems to me to be wise policy at the present time to take that decision made in 1945 or 1946 to build up the Irish deep sea fleet to the size then decided to be the minimum size which would protect our interest and secure our minimum requirements in time of war, and to get on with it. We cannot purchase ships as one can purchase a pair of boots simply by going into a store and selecting them. Ships cannot be built in any short period in the present state of the market. If there is to be a recognition of the need for the expansion of our deep sea fleet then action to order the construction of ships must be taken at once. Also, I think we should take more positive steps to develop ship building here. Now, that is going to involve Government assistance in some form. Ship building was undertaken here in the past and undertaken successfully. There is a book available by a former chief engineer of the Dublin Dockyard Company, a gentleman named Smellie, which is well worth reading. The directors of the shipyard companies have repeatedly assured me that they are fully equipped to undertake the building of ships of up to a certain size and that the only things they require are orders for the ships and Government assistance in procuring certain scarce materials.