Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 5 Feb 1953

Vol. 136 No. 2

Committee on Finance. - Adjournment Debate — Dublin Employment Exchanges.

On the motion for the Adjournment Deputy MacBride gave notice to raise the subject matter of Question No. 54 on to-day's Order Paper. Perhaps I should read the question: —

"To ask the Minister for Social Welfare if he is aware that, owing to the continual increasing unemployment the present employment exchanges in Dublin are inadequate; and, is so, if he will recommend improvements in the present buildings and the provision of extra exchanges."

As you, Sir, have kindly read the question, it might be as well if I read the answer which the Parliamentary Secretary gave to Deputy T. Byrne, whose question is was: —

"I am satisfied that the Dublin employment exchanges are adequate in normal times. The present pressure is temporary and is mainly due to work arising out of the implementation of the Social Welfare Act, 1952, which became fully operative on the 5th January, 1953.Seasonal unemployment is responsible for some of the cause of complaint. Certain improvements in the women's exchange, Victoria Street, are at present being made."

In the course of a supplementary question I asked the Parliamentary Secretary whether, having regard to the unemployment crisis which existed at the moment in Dublin City, he would be prepared to consider opening additional employment exchanges or providing transport for those who are unemployed, particularly from areas in my constituency of Dublin South-West. At the moment unemployed men and women have to travel from Crumlin, Kimmage, Drimnagh and Terenure as far as Werburgh Street to register at the employment exchange. They have to make this journey on a number of occasions during the week and it is quite a considerable distance.

The Parliamentary Secretary in reply to that supplementary said that a number of people in country districts had to cycle eight or ten miles and to walk three or four miles to the employment exchanges. I think that that reply cannot have been well considered by the Parliamentary Secretary and that it is not one which he would like to stand over in the City of Dublin. Conditions are different in the country from those in the city; special provisions are made in the country by allowing persons who have long distances to travel to use local Garda stations.

I do not propose in the course of this debate to raise the major question as to the causes of unemployment, but I will have to point out that the Parliamentary Secretary is mistaken when he alleges that the present unemployment is due to seasonal reasons or to the implementation of the Social Welfare Act, 1952. Since Question Time to-day the latest unemployment figures for last week have been made available and they show that the present unemployment total for the country is 87,283.

That is surely raising the general unemployment question.

Inasmuch as the Parliamentary Secretary says that there is no abnormal pressure and that this is a temporary matter, I only want to deal with the figures. That figure is some 22,000 higher than in January, 1951. The conditions during the week ending on the last Saturday in January, 1951, and during the week ending on the last Saturday of January, 1953, were the same: they were the same seasons of the year. Therefore, the figures are comparable and it is no answer to say that this is a seasonal increase. Likewise it is no answer to say that the work has increased by reason of the provisions of the Social Welfare Act, 1952——

The Deputy must not travel along that line.

——or to say that the present crisis is due to the 1952 Act.

I will allow the Deputy to give the figures in respect of the exchanges under discussion but I cannot allow him to travel the whole way.

I only want to point out that the figures which I am quoting are the total unemployment figures, which include unemployment insurance claimants and ordinary uninsured claimants and any change in social welfare legislation does not affect the total. It may affect the number of persons who are insured claimants as against uninsured claimants, but it does not affect the gross total, so that the Parliamentary Secretary must have been mistaken in the reasons which he gave in his reply.

The position in Dublin is extremely serious at the moment. I have had an opportunity of actually seeing the queues outside the three unemployment exchanges in the City of Dublin and I have received a great many complaints as to conditions in these exchanges and they are appalling. People are kept waiting for four or five hours, the women being very often badly clad while the men's clothes are certainly not fit for this weather. A great many claimants are elderly women who are unemployed and I think it is ridiculous for the Parliamentary Secretary to suggest that they canwalk four or five times a week from Ballyfermot to and from Werburgh Street which is the employment exchange at which they have to sign on.

The Parliamentary Secretary should re-examine this question in a non-Party sense. I said that I did not propose to widen the scope of the debate by going into the causes of the steep increase in unemployment. I merely make an appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to take measures which will alleviate the lot of the 87,000 people who are unemployed at the moment. I have not got the full total of unemployed in Dublin, but it is very substantial and represents a large percentage of the total. The accommodation in the three exchanges is entirely inadequate.

The Parliamentary Secretary has overlooked the fact that the City of Dublin has grown and expanded at a tremendous rate in recent years and that most of the wage earners in Dublin have moved from the centre of the city to outlying districts forming a ring around the city. Surely it is not too much to ask that some effort should be made to provide employment exchanges in these new areas some of which are many miles away from the present exchanges. The situation has been rendered even more acute by reason of the increase in bus fares in Dublin which has placed an additional burden on the claimants amounting to over 1/- a week in many cases.

Again I want to appeal to the Parliamentary Secretary to approach this question not as a member of the Fianna Fáil Party but to approach it as the responsible Parliamentary Secretary who is faced with a crisis in this respect. The St. Vincent de Paul Conference, who are doing tremendous work to try to alleviate the sufferings of these people, have considered the problem on a number of occasions recently and have made some suggestions as to how it could be dealt with. One of them is that transport should be made available through C.I.E. for unemployed claimants so that on presentation of their cards issued at the labour exchange they would be able to get free transport between certainhours. I do not think this would cause any particular burden on C.I.E. because the hours could be so regulated as to allow workers to avail of the non-peak period on those particular lines when the buses are very often empty or half empty. There is no reason why the claimants should not be able to travel at times when the traffic is very light. They need not travel at the ordinary business hours, so that it would not involve any additional expenditure on the part of C.I.E. and would do a tremendous amount to relieve the situation.

We all hope that the present unemployment crisis will not continue for long. I am not asking the Parliamentary Secretary to make any admission that it is likely to continue although I am afraid there are certain things which indicate that it will. Even on the Parliamentary Secretary's own assumption it will certainly continue for the next few months and that is the worst period of the year for these people. I would urge the Parliamentary Secretary to consider taking some steps of that nature. I have dealt with the problem so far as it affects Dublin South-West — Crumlin, Kimmage, Terenure, Drimnagh Ballyfermot, and so on, but it applies to the whole working-class area that is around the City of Dublin and it applies to Cabra and every other district in the city from where the bulk of the unemployed have come.

Conditions have changed considerably in the city and it does seem fantastic if you examine the areas of the city to find that the labour exchanges are situated miles away from the working-class areas of the city. I do not think that the cost of providing additional exchanges in these areas would be very much. We all hope that there will be no necessity for labour exchanges but unfortunately we have to deal with the situation as it is. I can see one difficulty in dealing with the situation immediately. It will probably take some time to acquire premises to provide suitable employment exchanges, but in the meanwhile I would urge the Parliamentary Secretary to adopt the suggestion made by the St. Vincent de Paul Conference that some arrangement should be cometo with C.I.E. whereby unemployed men and women could, during certain hours when the traffic is light, obtain free transport to and from the labour exchanges. I do not think it is an unreasonable request. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to approach this problem in an atmosphere of reason and to consider the situation objectively.

Another problem which arises is that at present the actual staffs and facilities in the employment exchanges are inadequate to meet the upsurge that is taking place in the course of the last few months. I do not think the staffs or the buildings were ever intended to cope with this upsurge. These are the highest unemployment figures we have had in ten years and these premises need to be increased in size and additional staffs employed to deal with the work and to ensure that claimants are not kept waiting, very often in queues, outside in the cold. Possibly if the Parliamentary Secretary has time he might go to some of these employment exchanges and examine the position for himself. If he did that he would realise very quickly that something had to be done, and done urgently. If he could also make contact with some of the unemployed persons in Cabra, Ballyfermot and Crumlin and hear their views on their difficulty of reaching the employment exchange he would also appreciate the urgency of doing something. If he cared to walk, for instance, from the far end of West Cabra or from the far end of Ballyfermot to the Werburgh Street exchange, he would realise that it is not a thing he would ask any unemployed man or woman to do. Many of the unemployed are elderly women who are badly handicapped; having regard to the increases in bus fares, the possibility of taking buses is completely removed.

I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will receive this motion objectively and will try to deal with the position and not merely deny that the problem exists and do nothing about it. He can do something about it by providing buses. That can be done by arrangement with C.I.E. at a negligible costif the buses are used at periods when traffic is light in the city.

Mr. A. Byrne

I will not detain the House more than two minutes to give the Parliamentary Secretary an opportunity of getting in. A fortnight ago I was asked to visit the Victoria Street women's employment exchange, and I can assure the Minister that at one time there were 800 to 1,000 girls in the street in the rain, and many passersby had great sympathy for them. The queue moved in very slowly. The employment exchange for women in Victoria Street is too small. They have a most courteous staff there doing everything that is humanly possible, and those who go in to sign on pay tribute to the staff that is in that department but they say it is too small. The claimants are there from half-past eight to 9 o'clock in the morning until 2 o'clock, and the day I saw them it was in the rain.

A lot of people passing by sympathised with them and asked if nothing was going to be done. I understand now that the Minister is going to put up an extra shelter, but the place is not big enough and the staffs cannot cope with the work. It is well to inform the House that there are two exchanges for women workers of the north side—one at Beresford Place— and I think there is only one on the south side. I would ask the Minister to visit them himself and see the queue that has to wait for many hours. The day I was there, unfortunately, the ambulance was called to take two people away because they stayed so long in the queue that they had become tired out.

To-day something has occurred at the employment exchange in Beresford Place where, I understand, 300 female workers were left without their money. I had a deputation here to-night of three women workers who said they spoke for 300 women workers who to-day were left without their money. Whether it is because of the taking in of cards or the issuing of new cards I do not know, but the Minister is aware of the fact and Deputy Byrne, Dublin North-West, has made a report to his Department who promised to go into it early in the morning. I am sure theywill rectify whatever grievance is there. It is most unfortunate that 300 girls should expect to get paid and to-day, with only one hour's notice, they get nothing.

That is a separate matter.

Mr. A. Byrne

I leave it at that. I ask the Minister to make early inquiries to find the cause. I think it is a fact that the staff is not adequate. I hope there will be some improvement in the buildings and staff, to see that payment will not be stopped at an hour's notice as it was to-day.

I want to assure the House that we are as much concerned with the unemployed man in Achill, Rosmuc or Donegal Peninsula as we are with the man in Dublin.

Mr. A. Byrne

That is agreed.

We want to give both men and women every facility. I was not three months in the position I have the honour to occupy before I visited every exchange and my principal concern was first with the people making claims and secondly with the welfare of the staff. We have got no complaints of any serious nature except in the case of Victoria Street. We are erecting shelters there and we are making better provision. There is no use closing one's eyes to the fact that the upsurge to which Deputy MacBride refers is due to the changes under the Social Welfare Act, 1952, which became operative on the 5th January of this year. Here is one small example. A person who heretofore found that 26 National Health Insurance stamps was very little good to him or her now becomes a beneficiary to full unemployment benefit for six months. I do not begrudge them that. I wish we could give them more — but the fact that that is available for them has brought, in many cases, a big rush on our labour exchanges.

That does not affect the gross total of claims, which includes assistance claims; it only affects the number of insured persons.

Deputy MacBride was not interrupted when he was speaking.

Under the other benefits we had a card which was in the hatch, which was presented to the claimant and was signed and the operation was automatic. Now he has to fill in a new form since the 5th January — this form in my hand. It is a very laborious job and there are 80,000 cases in which we have had to refer to the central statistical records of our Department to find out exactly what benefits the claimants are entitled to, because now we have the one stamp which covers national health and unemployment insurance.

There is no difference at all between the country and the city in this matter. The man below in Ballinacargy in County Westmeath has to cycle 14 miles to Mullingar to register in the labour exchange. Similarly, if he were under Westport exchange he may have to come in from some small town outside to register. He is facilitated after that by means of the Garda station, but he probably has to go five or six miles to that — just the same distance as the city person — and the amenities there in bad weather or rough weather are not nearly as good as those in the exchanges in Dublin.

This Social Welfare Department is a new Department, only in existence for about six years, and we are building it up and trying to improve the conditions. We have done an immense job in the last Social Welfare Act. Heretofore, to get certain benefits in national health you had to have 104 stamps. Now with 26 stamps you get the same benefit.

I categorically deny the statement by Deputy MacBride that any claimant had to wait four or five hours. I put an officer of our Department to watch one of our principal exchanges when this rush came on. There was a wait of 50 minutes but this has died down and the time is becoming quite normal. On this idea of providing buses and motor-cars for the unemployed to come to the exchanges, I wonder if we are realists or where the cost is to come from.

It is all a cod.

Deputy Cowan's cynicism has no equal in this city.

Where will the 2,500,000 people who have to carry this burden on their shoulders get the wherewithal to provide these buses and cars?

It is a wonder he is not asking for aeroplanes.

It is easy for Deputy Cowan to laugh, having codded the people of Dublin.

Mr. A. Byrne

It is not a laughing matter.

We have codded nobody in this. There is not a rural Deputy facing this with any honesty who does not know that the statement I am now going to make is true. We have streams of farmers going into exchanges who would not bother their heads for unemployment assistance heretofore, but because of this system of one stamp on the card for the two benefits they are now lining up and drawing it. Time will prove that. The very fact that we have 20,000 moreinsurable workers put into employment, according to the last return in October, is proof that this problem is not as big a problem as the figures would indicate. It is the fact that money is made easier to get and that there is more money available, that has brought about the increase in the number of claimants.

The Minister is treating it very lightly.

I would say to Deputy Hickey that if I could create the El Dorado he aims at I would do it in the morning.

I am not against you, but I think it is being treated lightly.

I have gone to exchanges in North Donegal and Achill Island and in Dublin. It is our endeavour to improve the amenities for these claimants and remove any hardships they have to endure. That has been our endeavour in the past and will be our endeavour in the future.

The Dáil adjourned at 11 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 6th February, 1953.