Adjournment Debate. - Exports of Blended Whiskey.

Deputy McQuillan has given notice that on the motion for the Adjournment, he wished to raise the subject matter of a question to the Taoiseach on today's Order Paper.

The question you kindly gave me permission to raise on the Adjournment is one which I think is of very grave importance to the country as a whole. Otherwise, I can assure you, I would not delay the House at this hour of the night in having the matter aired and discussed. My question today asked the Taoiseach if he would state the total value and quantity of blended whiskey exported in each of the years from 1954 to date. The reply given by the Par. Sec. to the Taoiseach was as follows:

"Statistics of domestic exports are brought to account according to the headings of the Official Export List which distinguishes only ‘Whiskey, home made.' I propose, therefore, with the permission of the Ceann Comhairle to circulate in the Official Report a statement showing the total quantity and value of domestic exports of home made whiskey in each of the years 1954 to 1958 inclusive."

In a supplementary question, I asked the Parliamentary Secretary if, in view of the fact that the House had already voted moneys towards a sales and research campaign in the American market for a blended whiskey, he should give the House the figures for the export of blended whiskey for the years mentioned. The Parliamentary Secretary replied in the following words:

"As I explained to the Deputy in the answer, the statistics of domestic exports are brought to account according to the headings of the Official Export List. They are not segregated."

I was anxious that these exports should be segregated because the export of blended whiskey is a new export on which we have embarked since 1954. I pursued the question with another supplementary and the Taoiseach intervened to state: "Was not the reason given to the Deputy that the information was not available in the form he asked." I replied to that by stating:

"With due respect, this is the third time on which I put down a question on this matter in order to give the Government an opportunity of segregating the sales."

I wish to correct that now by stating it is not the third time but the fifth time I have asked the Government to clarify the position, and it was in order that the House might get a proper understanding of the importance of this matter that I did so.

We exported no blended whiskey prior to 1954, but, as far back as 1949, efforts were made to get a blended whiskey on the market. In September, 1949, and in May, 1950, the Industrial Development Authority, at the request of the then Government, asked the distillers here to get into the production of a blended whiskey for the export market. Nothing was done, in a practical sense, until 1954, but in 1953, the present Minister for Industry and Commerce and Deputy Norton, who was the Minister at that time, emphatically pointed out that it was absolutely desirable and essential that we get into the production of blended whiskey, along with potstill, for the export trade.

I do not propose to delay the House by quoting in detail what the Minister and his predecessor said, but, in 1954, as result of a market research and survey carried out by Coras Tráchtála Teoranta, the first sales of blended whiskey took place on the American market. I felt it was only reasonable and fair to give an opportunity to the distillers to develop that trade before I put questions in the House to ascertain what the result of the export efforts were and I did not table any question on this matter until July, 1956.

In July, 1956, I asked the Taoiseach if he would state in respect of 1955 (a) the total quantity, and (b) the total value, of exports of Irish whiskey, differentiating in each case between potstill and blended whiskeys. The Parliamentary Secretary, then Deputy O'Sullivan, gave the figures for domestic exports but stated: "Separate particulars for potstill and blended whiskeys are not available." I then asked:—

"Would the Parliamentary Secretary be able to tell us where lies the difficulty in segregating the figures? Surely it should be possible to segregate the figures in view of the fact that the export of blended whiskey is but of recent occurrence?

Mr. O'Sullivan: I am afraid I cannot supply that information.

Mr. McQillan: I think the Parliamentary Secretary should endeavour to obtain it.

Mr. O'Sullivan: I shall."

Afterwards, in the course of correspondence, I learned that no segregation would be made for the benefit of the public. That was during the period of office of the inter-Party Government, but I followed the matter up in May, 1957, when Deputy Norton asked the Taoiseach to state the value of whiskey exports to each country in each of the financial years ended 31st March, 1952, to 31st March, 1957, when, at column 913 of Vol. 161 of the Official Reports, I asked:—

"Would the Parliamentary Secretary endeavour to segregate the whiskey into potstill and blended blended whiskey, if at all possible, for the last two years?"

To that, the Parliamentary Secretary replied:

"Notice would be required of that question."

I then asked:

"Is it not in the last two or three years that the market has expanded for blended whiskey? It would be desirable to know the actual quantity of that whiskey that has been sold."

The reason I am giving these quotations is to point out that my question today was no sudden one that took the Parliamentary Secretary by surprise, and I do not think he will maintain that it did. I want to make it clear that I am not blaming himself personally in this matter, and it is in order strengthen his hand and show the public what has happened that I have raised this. Again, in order to strengthen the hand of the Parliamentary Secretary I quote from col. 851, vol. 171, of the Official Report for 25th November last when I spoke as follows:

"Since 1954 to the present time, the actual increase in the export of Irish whiskey has been negligible. We were told that an immense drive was under way to popularise a number of blended whiskeys—new products—in the American market. I tried in this House by way of Parliamentary Question to extract from the Minister what were the exact sales of blended whiskey in America and a reply would not be given. Is there any reason why the House and the country cannot be told what the actual export value of the blended whiskey is each year, having regard to the fact that the country, the public and the taxpayers are now going to subsidise the Irish distillers?"

I made that comment in the course of a Supplementary Estimate introduced by the Minister for Industry and Commerce. It was an Estimate for the purpose of giving Coras Tráchtala Teoranta an extra £25,000 to publicise whiskey in the United States. That was the second occasion on which money was voted by the House for the expansion of sales of whiskey, including blended whiskey, on the American market.

In last year's Budget the Minister for Finance gave £25,000 to Coras Tráchtála Teoranta to help to sell Irish whiskey and last November the Minister for Industry and Commerce came in with another Supplementary Estimate for another £25,000 for the same purpose. I understand the distillers themselves put up £25,000 also. That is a total of £75,000, £50,000 of which was voted by this House, and in the Exporters Newsletter, a special edition of which was brought out in December by Coras Tráchtála Teoranta, it is stated in page 5 under the heading "What Kind of Whiskey?"

"We are fortunate in having available for the markets"

—that is the United States markets—

"both blends and pot-stills. Both are unmistakably Irish, yet correspond admirably to the broad divisions of American tastes."

In this Government publication, we have Coras Tráchtála Teoranta offering two types of whiskey for sale in America, blended and pot still. The House voted £50,000 in order to sell these two whiskeys but the House will not now be told what proportion of the sales in America or elsewhere is pot still and what proportion is blended whiskey.

It is important that we should know this because public moneys are being spent and surely the public are entitled to have at least some idea as to the success or otherwise of a campaign for which their money is used.

In 1957 we sold to the United States whiskey valued at £92,000. The figures up to the 31st March, 1958, were not available but I am absolutely positive that the figures for 1958 were less than for 1957 or, in other words, that we sold less than £92,000 worth to America in spite of the fact that this House voted £50,000 to Coras Tráchtála Teoranta to sell Irish whiskey to America and that another £25,000 as a minimum went into the advertising campaign from the distillers. A total of £75,000 was spent in one year on a publicity campaign and in the year prior to that the sales of the whiskey reached only £90,000.

Surely we are entitled to know whether there is something sinister behind the fact that there is failure to disclose whether the sale of blended whiskey is successful. We are entitled to know whether the distillers have had their own way as they had up to 1954 when they did their utmost to prevent blended whiskey coming on the market. Are they using their influence to ensure that money voted by this House goes for the purpose of promoting the sale of pot still whiskey in preference to the blended type? The simplest way to know the truth is for the Parliamentary Secretary at this stage to get from the Minister of Industry and Commerce or from the distillers the actual figures for sales abroad of pot still whiskey and the figures for blended whiskey. There is no difficulty in getting the figures. The suggestion may be made by the Parliamentary Secretary that in view of the fact that only a limited number of firms have embarked on the sale of blended whiskey in America it would be contrary to the public interest to disclose the amount of money or the value of the whiskey involved. I do not think that is so. These people are getting public moneys. This House has voted the money and is therefore entitled to know whether or not this campaign is proving successful.

I would ask the Parliamentary Secretary to make the necessary changes in the administration. No doubt the Ceann Comhairle would not have allowed this adjournment debate at all if it meant advocating legislation. There is no need to change legislation; all that is necessary is that the Parliamentary Secretary should issue the appropriate instructions so that a proper method of presenting statistics will be established and from this year on neither I nor any other Deputy will have to come to the House and insist that public interest be protected where public funds are available for private interests as is the case here.

Ba mhaith liom níos mó eolais a thabhairt don Teachta ná mar a thugas dó inniú ach níl an eolas agam agus ní dóigh liom go mbeidh.

Deputy McQuillan wants information about exports of blended whiskey but any information available to the Central Statistics Office about whiskey exports is procured from the Revenue Commissioners. As I said in reply to the Deputy's question to-day, there is no official definition of blended whiskey. The term could be applied to a mixture of one type of whiskey of different ages or it could be a blending of whiskeys manufactured by different distillers. The problem raised by the Deputy in his question to-day and in this debate has been already exhaustively examined by the Revenue Commissioners at the request of the Central Statistics Office following the raising of this subject in former questions by the Deputy.

He mentioned a question which he tabled on July 17th, 1956. If, by blended whiskey, Deputy McQuillan has in mind the type of blended Irish whiskey referred to in a previous Dáil debate, on the 21st April, 1955, column 282-284, Volume 150, a blend which is produced by a particular firm for the American market, then he should understand it is not the practice of the Revenue Commissioners to reveal transactions of a particular firm. Perhaps an enquiry to the firm itself by the Deputy or somebody else who is interested might procure the information he is seeking. He should understand there is a standing practice on the part of the Revenue Commissioners and on the part of the Central Statistics Office also not to reveal information which would tend to give confidential knowledge of transactions by one individual firm.

I do not want to interrupt but I am not asking that the Parliamentary Secretary should give what one particular firm was selling but what the group was selling. It started only in 1955.

As I understand the position, from the information I got in my investigations during the afternoon I gather that the question as put, if replied to as the Deputy wants it replied to, would reveal the private transactions of an individual firm. That has not been done in the past and will not be done in the future. Even assuming that the expression "blended whiskey" could be adequately defined, to provide the type of information and segregation Deputy McQuillan requires would mean a recasting of the methods used by the Revenue Commissioners for recording whiskey production and storage; from the information I have been supplied with I do not consider that the data in question is of sufficient importance to warrant the trouble and expense such a change would require. There is not any desire on the part of the Central Statistics Office or the Department of the Taoiseach to refuse Deputy McQuillan any available statistical information about this or any other matter. The Statistics Office is in existence to provide the most complete and comprehensive statistical information at its disposal or which it can procure. Nothing in regard to this matter is being hidden from the Deputy——

Except the facts.

Nothing that is available is being hidden from the Deputy. The segregation he is looking for is not available and is not likely to become available. The information I gave today is the only information the Central Statistics Office have or that is likely to become available. I understand that this matter was fully explained to Deputy McQuillan previously by the former Parliamentary Secretary when the Deputy put down that question in 1956. All the data and information at the disposal of the Central Statistics Office was given to him.

I think I have said enough to convince the House at any rate. I do not suppose I have succeeded in convincing Deputy McQuillan that the segregation of figures he desires is not feasible and that he will have to be satisfied with the only information that can be supplied to him and that I have given in reply to today's question. Of course this information was already published in the trade statistics for each year.

Will the Parliamentary Secretary explain how Coras Tráchtála in their newsletter specifically referred to potstill and blended whiskey and said they are hoping to find a market for these two types of whiskey? Is it not possible for the Government to give us the export figures?

They are not available in the Central Statistics Office which procures information of that nature from the Revenue Commissioners.

Then this book is only a cod.

It is not a cod. I rather resented the Deputy's suggestion today that the information was being hidden from him. There is no intention in the world to do that. The Central Statistics Office will give the most complete information at its disposal but the Deputy can understand there are instances in which the information is not available in the form required. There have been several questions put to the Taoiseach which could not be answered on the lines the Deputies who put them down wanted because the information was not available in that form. That is the position about this question.

And this House voted £50,000.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.55 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 9th April, 1959.