Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 12 Jul 1962

Vol. 196 No. 13

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Prices of Imported Onions.


asked the Minister for Agriculture if he will make a statement on the allegations that excessive profit is being obtained by the licensed importers of Spanish onions or their agents, in so far as it is claimed that bags of those onions landed in Dublin at a cost of 18/- (approximately) are being resold to the trade at from 35/-to 45/-, and that they are consequently costing the housewife twice what they should.


Mr. Ryan

asked the Minister for Agriculture if he will take immediate steps to ensure that imported onions are available at Dublin at prices similar to those paid for similar onions imported into Britain; and if he will explain the reason for the substantially greater price of such onions at Dublin compared with the prices for similar onions in British markets.

With your permission, a Cheann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 8 together.

I am aware that a quantity of onions was recently imported and sold by auction at a price in excess of the wholesale price for onions in Britain. I have no control over the wholesale or retail prices of onions which, of course, are regulated by supply and demand. When it became apparent towards the end of June that owing to the exceptionally late season the supply of onions on the market would not be sufficient, I arranged, after consultation with the trade, to permit the importation of approximately 250 tons, which was the quantity estimated by the trade as necessary to keep the market supplied until the home crop became available. Control over imports is of course maintained in the interests of the growers.

Is there any explanation for the big differential in price?

I have suggested supply and demand and that is the only explanation I have to give.

If the Minister licenses the import of onions to meet requirements, why should the price go up? Surely the price should be stable?

It has been public policy all down the years to protect the market for the home producer. The procedure followed is that during the open season, all and sundry are free to import onions without let or hindrance. At the approach of the season for the marketing of home produced onions, an order is made, and announced in the public Press well in advance of the date on which the prohibition of imports will take effect. That procedure was followed this year. Neither I nor the Department can foretell what the season will be like. This season happened to be late and the home-produced onions were not available for the market as soon as they normally would be. When we saw that situation developing, we did as I have said. We called in the members of the trade and had consultations with them. We had their advice as to what would be necessary to cover the period in between and we gave licences to 21 people for the purpose of effecting these imports. There is no other means or no course available to me as Minister other than the one I have outlined.

Was there any real difficulty in arranging when issuing permits to import 250 tons of onions because Irish onions were not at that stage available that they should be sold at a fixed selling price and thus prevent the public from being fleeced as they have been fleeced during the past few weeks?

That is not possible because if you look at the market for onions in Britain and elsewhere, you will see the greatest fluctuations in price from day to day. If I were to give licences on the basis of a standard price, and if the people concerned were not able to effect imports at those prices during that period, what would be the position then?

Those people bought the onions at the British prices and sold them at inflated prices and made big profits out of a scarcity of onions.

That is a matter over which I have no control.

The Prices Act is available and the Minister controls the price.

I do, of course, but surely the suggestion made by the Deputy would not meet the situation. If I were to follow it and depart from what has been the public policy all down the years, and allow the free importation of onions, I could ensure that the market would be supplied, and that there would be no need for complaints as to the price at which the wholesaler and the retailer would make them available but that would not be consistent with public policy as pursued all down the years.

Surely it is not public policy to permit the consumer to be fleeced, or is it?

I have followed public policy in this case.