When one rises here to speak on the Estimate for Agriculture, knowing there has been a reduction of £6 million or 4½ per cent in the net income of the Irish farmer, while at the same time we have had a year in which there has been an increase in consumer spending in all other sections of the community and an increase in costs, one realises the plight of the farmers, and that there is a reason for the farmers being dissatisfied. It might well be said that every Opposition speaker who rises in Dáil Éireann to speak on the Estimate for Agriculture would possibly start speaking in the same vein, but not perhaps for such valid reasons as are before us now.
It is clear that the farmer has had a reduction in his standard of living at a time when the standard of living of everybody in Europe is either slowly or very quickly improving. Therefore the position of the boy or girl, the farmer's son or daughter who is in agriculture, is that he or she is unable to go to that dance, unable to live like his or her counterpart in the town, and is therefore inclined to emigrate and leave farming behind. The Minister tells us there will be a reduction in the numbers in agriculture, but not for the specific reason which I outline, namely, that the standard of living has dropped in the year in which one would have expected it to rise to some degree at least, and when the standard has increased in all other sections of the communities of all the other countries in Europe.
The main section of our agricultural industry is the production and marketing of cattle, and one of the attempts of the Government to do something about this was the introduction of the heifer grant scheme. This was meant to increase our cattle herds, and it has done so temporarily. I can refer to the Minister's speech and say that he has indicated that there is a slowing down. The very figures the Minister produces with his Estimate indicate there is this slowing down, and that there was merely a temporary improvement.
Any attempt to increase our cattle numbers on the land should have been preceded by and paralleled with a campaign for the conservation of our summer grass and a campaign for the increase in the summer grass growing season, so that, first of all we would have a shorter winter in which our cattle would have to be fed and housed within, and, secondly, we would have more with which to feed them when we had to put them in. This would have meant not the catastrophic situation which we had last back-end, to use a farming term, but one in which the people would have been able to do what the Minister now exhorts them to do, sell their cattle at the right time of the year.
Instead of that, Fianna Fáil as a political Party had to do something else for an obvious reason. The reason was that Fine Gael had proposed a calf subsidy and, parallel with it, the stepping-up of efforts to conserve the summer grass and put it to good use during the winter. Our plan was not the plan introduced by the Fianna Fáil Government; it was a subsidy on every heifer calf and, in case anyone worried as to whether heifers might be mated once and then disposed of, it was suggested that the subsidy could be phased over a two year period, thereby ensuring that the mother would be kept for at least two years. Had this been done, there would have been a permanent increase, but only, of course, if there had been parallel with it a strenuous effort to produce winter feed and winter housing. This was not done.
Fianna Fáil have, of course, to compete politically. They have always had to do that. They produced the present scheme. Now the Department has had to defend the scheme, but the defence has failed, in my opinion. At page 2 of the circular issued by the Department in relation to the scheme, it is stated that herds of over 20 animals took in only five per cent of the proportion of grantees. The grants for over 100 cattle —in number they were only 12— represented 0.5 per cent. I have made the point in the past, and I should like to make it again now, that there is no such thing as an average of averages. That is one of the first laws of mathematics and if there is a mathematician in the Department, he will know that. If one man gets a grant of £100 and ten men get grants of £10 each and an average is struck by dividing by 11, one gets a result of between ten and 20. But that, of course, is not a true picture. The truth is that someone jumped in and jumped out again, having increased the number of heifers for one year, and one year only.
The Minister said that the Department had been instructed to make a change in the administration of the scheme and to ensure that the accent in relation to payments would be on people who were staying in and those who were not staying in should be disqualified. I was able to inform the Minister's predecessor about the situation quite some months back. I knew cases of it. I told the Minister's predecessor what the position was. He denied it. The reference can be produced if it is required. All this goes to show that the scheme has, in fact, been of a temporary nature and has, in general, been a failure. As a result of this change, some unfortunate people, perfectlybona fide, have not been paid their grants.
I know a boy whose brother was in gaol until about a week ago; someone paid his fine. This boy got married. His father bought him a farm. Everyone with any experience knows that there is generally an overdraft or loan involved in this kind of business. This young man went into the scheme. The payment of the grants was delayed to such an extent that he had to sell some of the heifers. At the moment he is owed over £1,000. He is now going to drop the whole thing, forget about the grants and go in for something else. That is most unjust.
I raised another case with the Department last week in which a brother sold some cows, which were single suckling, to another brother. There was no subterfuge. There was a cheque dated 12 months ago, which was open for examination. Yet the Department decided there should be no payment. I am not advocating payment to those who jump in and jump out again but, as the scheme was phrased, there was no reason why a person could not avail, if he so wished, of the scheme for one year and then proceed to get out.
As I have said, this scheme was a temporary scheme produced as a defence against good Fine Gael policy. It was brought in in a hurried fashion and it has resulted in nothing but a very bad trade for cattle last back-end, a slackening off in cattle prices and a general sense of disappointment with the whole operation of the scheme.
With regard to factory beef prices, there has been grave dissatisfaction and the National Farmers Association have been advocating a marketing board. At the same time, we have beef factories owned largely by private individuals and private companies. Every indication is that prices for beef here in certain weeks were far worse than those obtaining in Britain. I know from my contacts with the trade that there are many kinds of beef. I know cattlemen here who send cattle to Aberdeen for slaughter and despatch to Smithfield as Scotch beef because that denoted a certain type of beef, a certain weight and a certain age. Comparison is extremely difficult because of the different types and comparisons, therefore, can be very inaccurate. One inducement would be the payment of the subsidy direct to the farmer. I believe in this. The farmer could then add the price he receives from the factory to his subsidy from the State and in that way arrive at the real price. The factory would, of course, pay less, but it would be quite simple for anybody to find out exactly how the land lies.
I do not know if an absolutely controlled beef marketing board is the best thing—I am quite frank about that—but I am absolutely certain that direct payment of the subsidy to the farmer is of the utmost importance. I adduce as an argument that it can be done the fact that, when there was a back-payment on wheat to be made some time ago, An Bord Gráin, with only eight or nine persons in the office, was in a position to pay whatever they owed to every farmer in a matter of six weeks and that, when a back payment was to be made on malting barley, a group of brewers' agents, with very small office staff, were enabled to make these payments in a matter of weeks. Where such a payment would be of a permanent nature, with the valleys and hills of high selling and low selling periods, a relatively small staff could pay to every farmer his subsidy on beef, if there was a subsidy due. This would have a great effect inasmuch as the farmer would not feel he had been done down in the price he received and it would make him believe that the industry was working for him as well as for itself. It is something of which we would really approve.
The pig industry is in a most parlous condition. We have a situation wherein one factory, the largest in the country, the recipient of a grant of £200,000 with capital expenditure stated at that time of a further £800,000 and a total expenditure of £1 million, found itself in the position that it could not carry on and that liquid resources were not available to it from the banking system, with the result that it had to decide, as a company, that it would wind itself up. Happily, and by what agency I know not, apart from this, a large co-operative society already engaged in the industry was in the position of effecting a take-over. That meant that the factory carried on. This was paralleled by a factory in Limerick closing and difficulties and rumours of difficulties in factories all over the country.
Our pig trade used to be one of our stable exports and one of the great things on which we prided ourselves. The constancy of supply, which makes a large industry possible, is not available under our present system. The pig cycle that was discovered about 15 years ago to exist, when people looked at statistics, is at its lowest ebb at the moment and is a feature that can clearly be seen by anybody who studies the relevant figures over a few decades. If this continues, we shall have more difficulties with factories. Some factories may take too much profit or may have to take it and may then show considerable losses at other periods. This is not of any value to us. Particularly in relation to better sales of our grade A bacon on the export markets, it is catastrophic. We have to look at this matter in a really positive way and do something about it.
There has been much talk about pig fattening stations and sows out with small farmers and the guarantee of a good and a stable price for bonhams. This, largely, has been talk. If this had been done over the past ten years, then surely there would not have been such a valley in the pig cycle as created such terrible consternation and pain in the industry in the past few months? We have to go forward with pig fattening stations. We have to see to it, and we have no choice, that there is a constant supply.
Now I come to the increase of 6/-, the price of feed and various other factors that seem to queer the pitch regularly and cause trouble. I believe that the right way to subsidise is to do it by reducing the price of feed. Instead of having an Exchequer subsidy on the export of pig meat, I suggest a subsidy on the production of barley. This has an obvious difficulty inasmuch as certain farmers may have geared themselves to keep their own barley and to feed it to their pigs. I do not think the brains of the Department of Agriculture would not be able to get over that obstacle: I think they certainly would surmount it.
I believe that the best way to subsidise the production of pigs is to produce a cheap feed. This I shall deal with a bit further on when talking about our grade pigs. However, in relation to the pig industry, I sincerely believe that we could do better by producing a subsidy on feed than by producing a subsidy on the export of meat. There is the argument of centralised buying and absolute control of that by one body or by the system at present in use, namely, the buying of pigs by bacon factories and by people who want them for pork and other things. I believe in the two systems as we have them at present. I do not like too much power in one hand. There are so many different ways of marketing a pig and so many different sorts of pigs that are suitable for so many different things that the best price for each individual animal can be got only when we have a multiplicity of avenues whereby the pig can be assimilated.
The agent of a factory might come to a man's yard and beat the grade A price spectacularly for a number of pigs. He knows they will not all make grade A but he has two pork shops in the town and that is where they will go. He does not introduce the punitive factor that would operate in the factory in relation to pigs that were not just quite grade A. That may be a terrible sin. We may feel like stern disciplinarians and come forward with the idea that if a pig is not grade A—even though we have use for it that does not demand grade A—we should punish the farmer by reducing his price. To have the two systems is the best—the man who can dispose of that pig in a different way and pay that price for it and at the same time to have the grade A price available at the factory gate to any man who wants to bring his pigs there—and I should be opposed to the centralised system.
If we let people away with pigs that are fatter than we want them to be, then we shall not produce our proper proportion of grade A pigs. That, again, is a system of education by punishment. If the leg or loin of pork needs a bit of fat on it to preserve its flavour, why not give the farmer his price for as much of the market as is available for a particular purpose? Similarly, the exports of pork from this country were extremely good and extremely profitable and, from being a small trade, had increased to quite a sizeable trade in the past few years. When the number of pigs coming forward was reduced, then the exports of pork were restricted. This particular avenue, again, was not available to the farmer, so that, in fact, one reason the farmers went out of pigs was that what they could get away with in the bacon factory, which was also a pork exporter, two years ago, they could not get away with in the past few months: all pork was for bacon and all bacon had to be grade A and, if it was not, then out came the cane and the man got £3 less for his pig. This is true.
We have to be a bit more flexible and realise that while the Pigs and Bacon Commission are great people, and so on, it is necessary that we give the best price to every farmer for every pig that is available to him. The sort of pioneer, punitive instinct that seems to be in every Celt should not lead us to penalise a farmer if there is an avenue whereby he can get a better price for his pig.
I want to talk now about the prices for wheat, oats and barley and the effect of certain decisions on the pig trade. There was a similar effect in other spheres, where grain was used as a feed but certainly on the pig trade the effect was disastrous. Many Members mentioned an increase of 10/- a barrel for wheat. This was made at a stage when there was a wet spring. There was no increase last year. It has had quite a spectacular effect on wheat and some people talk about a 100 per cent increase in wheat when the farmers will find time to think about this increase. I want to talk about the previous year when it was necessary. There was an increase in two commodities, namely, wheat and barley. The increase in barley was 5/- and the increase in wheat 3/-. I suggest it is our job, if we are managing the cereal market, which we are—the Government are managing it—to get for the farmer the maximum return available to him for cereals in any way we can. Remembering that cash markets are scarce for the farmer, if we can put the maximum amount of wheat into the grist at the highest practical price as far as the industrial worker is concerned and the community as a whole, it is our duty to do so. If we encourage, by the balance of prices, the production of more of one thing and less of another, where our main aim is deflection, that of giving the farmer the most money and producing the most goods, then we are wrong.
I suggest that the previous increase was a badly balanced increase. We produced an increase whereby the farmer was discouraged from growing more wheat and was encouraged to grow more barley. Even with the increase of 50 per cent in the quantity of wheat grown this year we have not reached optimum. Here is a market available to us whereby the industrial worker over the years, as prices and wages were fixed, has been prepared to pay for Irish wheat put into his bread and which was giving a good market to the farmer. We have not reached optimum on that but we will have too 25,000 tons on the 1st September next and it is costing £6 a ton more than the price at which its counterpart could be imported. I am not advocating the importation of cheap feed but I am suggesting that if we have a deficiency in our production of wheat on the one hand, there could be instead of the estimated 55 per cent last year of Irish wheat into the grist a further 50 per cent and we would not, in fact, have this 25,000 tons of barley at £6 a ton. We should have grown more wheat and slightly less barley. This was an error produced by the previous Government increase when farmers changed over, because farmers are extremely slow to change back.
It might be thought that I am romancing about 25,000 tons of barley at £6 per ton. One of the reasons our pigs have dropped in numbers over the last six to nine months—I have indicated other reasons—was because we had this large volume of barley. While this year we have only 38 per cent Irish wheat in our grist we could not import any cheap feed and we had to use all our own barley. The net result is that it is very much dearer than that of our competitors abroad. The result has also been, of course, a spectacular reduction in the number of pigs, a failure even to assimilate the amount of barley by this very heavy restriction of the farmer, 25,000 tons of barley too much, one bacon factory gone into liquidation and the whole trade in chaos. In operating our feeding policy and our grain policy we should try on the feeding end to produce the best value for the feeders at the same time remembering that we have got to provide the best prices for the growers. We should look at wheat and barley not as two things but as an entity, crops that can be grown largely in the same field, and if we balance this out we will do a reasonably good job.
In growing grain, we should always remember, even when the Minister for Industry and Commerce is discussing things with the flour millers, that if we could create a situation wherein it meant a little less money for a flour miller to use five per cent more foreign wheat and a little more for him to use five per cent more Irish wheat there would be an incentive to include in the grist the maximum amount. I am pretty close to that trade and in my view there have been occasions during the last 20 years when the maximum was not included, more for the lack of knowledge and the improper approach of the Government than for anything else. If you encourage people to do the right thing then you will have got somewhere and you will have exploited your market to the fullest. If you do not do that, you will find people in every walk of life, whether they are farmers, millers, bacon factory proprietors, or anybody else who is involved in the whole complex business, pulling against you, whereas if you can only get your line of thought and your policy right you will find these people pulling with you, not for any love of your bright blue eyes but because you have done the right thing and because at that stage they have the incentive to do the right thing for themselves.
A report was published by three banks on the conduct of agricultural industry in the European Economic Community and the salient point in this report was that the incentives offered were both the carrot and the stick and that industries involved in agriculture, in the processing of agricultural produce, on the one hand, and the farmers on the other, had to make use of the incentives because they could not afford not to do so. If they did not do so their competitors would put them out of business. This is an attitude of mind we have not developed here fully and we have vacillated between the stick without a carrot and the carrot without a stick. If we could get our minds right in the interests of everybody in this industry which is so important we could approach the thing in a proper way.
I observed in an article in theIrish Times of April 5th that the numbers of farmers affected by the pilot area scheme in the west of Ireland is 4,278 and that the total number of farmers about whom we are speaking when we talk about the west of Ireland is 150,000. I infuriated the Minister's predecessor—when I say that, I am sure I am warning the Minister and therefore he just smiles—when I compared the amount voted for the pilot scheme in its first year, £100,000, with the butt of a cigarette, taking it that 1d on cigarettes in taxation produced £1 million. I was rather astonished to find it produced, in fact, more than that but for the purpose of my analogy, it is sufficiently accurate. In the second year of the scheme, we had, I think, a figure of £200,000 which I compared with the butts of two cigarettes. One can imagine the poor individual coming up the road with a can of milk on the handlebars of his bicycle, sucking his butt. He could think that what he was getting in this great pilot scheme to bring him home into the land flowing with milk and honey was the taxation on the butt of the cigarette he was sucking and in the second year he had been advanced to the extremely extravagant stage when he commanded the taxation on the butts of two cigarettes.
This comparison is one to which I do not like to resort. I am usually horrified by the Budget speech of Deputy P.J. Burke when he tells us we are all voting against an increase for the old age pensioners, but I think it is particularly clear that the work of the pilot areas is not being proceeded with in any volume. Perhaps the fellow with the can of milk on the handlebars sucking the butt of a cigarette has other incomes. Perhaps he goes to the employment exchange and draws something there. Perhaps he does a bit of handiwork as a carpenter has an occasional job with the Board of Works or acts as gillie on a boat now and then and that his standard of living cannot be improved, that there is no hope that on his holding he could ever reach the goal we are told has been set for him. Perhaps that is so but there are so many shades and sides to that kind of individual problem that I would not venture to conjecture on it. One thing is certain, that is, that the operation of pilot schemes which are only pilot schemes shows people that without the application of very large sums of money, these will not increase the standard of living of people in the west of Ireland depending on smallholdings to any appreciable extent, and that there is nothing for them but what has been there for them for quite a long time, the emigrant ship.
I now come to the gravamen of the matter, which is investment. I welcome the NFA investment trust plan which has been launched. This is nothing new in NFA policy. In fact, I find that at page 144 of the commonly known "Green Book" issued in 1964, they indicate the sort of capital investment that would be necessary for their plan of that time. I use the figures merely to show the size of the problem. Between 1964 and 1970, they envisaged a figure of £309 million in capital investment in agriculture, if we were to stay abreast of events in Europe and provide for our people in agriculture the same level of rising standards of living as is available in other occupations. The capital investment they envisaged at that time by the Government was £102 million over the period and by the farmers £207 million. Even if the NFA were to quadruple their present subscriptions to NFA funds each year on the average, meaning that some of them perhaps would give nothing and that the larger farmers would give greatly increased subscriptions, and if co-operation expanded and perhaps quadrupled, there would still be a complete void and there would still be need for capital to process agricultural goods and to make the farmer efficient, for which there would be no provision.
The co-operation of industry in the processing of agricultural goods is, unfortunately, a rare thing in this country. There has been a view among farmers that "profit" is a dirty word and among certain farmers the view was that certain profits were excessive. At the same time, there was a view among businessmen that it was dangerous to touch agriculture, that you were up against all sorts of things, that co-operatives were against you and that you had to be against the co-operatives, that the Government would watch your profits and that you would be hounded on all sides. Yet, the main raw material of this country is agricultural produce, the basic thing which we can convert into exports that are not just an export—though there is much of it in it—of the work of our young people. This could be a gross export that would be very close to a net export because we have the raw materials and the work to be put into it also. Otherwise, we are just getting from abroad raw materials which are processed here and sent out as re-exports. These are gross exports into which we have put nothing but the labour of our people.
I suggest that the main line of policy should be the attraction of industrialists to invest in what I call agro-industry, in the processing of agricultural goods in every possible way and the framing of Government legislation to encourage this development beyond all others for employment here. At the same time, we should expand co-operativism so that we would have these two factors working together so that the void which I have pointed out and which is quite obvious to anybody who looks at the volume of capital needed, could then be filled.
The Knapp Report on co-operation in Ireland had, as its main recommendation, the expansion and rejuvenation of the IAOS and a suggestion of a grant of £100,000. That sum is just like the butt of a cigarette for the pilot areas; it is a joke and of no real significance in relation to this development of our agricultural processing industries such as the meat industry and even more so, the milk industry, the production and diversification of milk products as changing demands occur. All these things would be quite impossible unless we have three things: the expansion of the farmers' investment, the new idea of the NFA Trust or other such activities and the inclusion for the first time in major volume of investment by industry and involvement of industrialists in agricultural production and processing.
To give an idea of what is involved, let us think of Erin Foods. We know the figures; they are there to be seen. There was an investment of something over £20 million and they have just three or four factories buying vegetables from farmers. In its first year, the company lost spectacular sums. The principals at that time indicated that this was deliberately being done; they knew they would have to lose this money in marketing before they got their market and they planned that by 1971 there would be a viable situation for the company. Let us look at the £20 million-odd provided for the processing of vegetables in three or four factories, and then think of your meat trade. Then think of what you can do with cereals. Think of the bacon trade and think of the whole complete range, whatever it is, and realise that the investment, first of all, on the farms and, secondly, in the processing industry, is so colossal that it requires everything, co-operatives, farmers and industrialists, all pulling together, all understanding that one is not against the other but that they are one for all and all for one, that there is such a thing as profit, that it is necessary, that the absolute guarantee of advancement in any industry is that there is profit within it and that the person in Grafton Street is as much involved in our agricultural advancement as the man milking his cow.
I said a few words on this myself in an article in a review which I am sure the Minister might not read too often, the Fine Gael Digest, 1964. It is great when you find yourself three years afterwards in agreement with what you then said, though if you found yourself too often in agreement with what you said on a previous occasion, you would find yourself completely stultified. I quote from that article:
The answer lies in the first broad plan for agriculture produced by the NFA a few months ago. There a path had been indicated and targets defined. What was now needed was the spadework of Government, the organisation and administration that would see to it that the farmer who produced for the already established market got a fair return, and that there should be the instruments of presentation, such as pig fattening stations, grain drying stations, packing and processing units, and trade liaisons flourishing to provide new markets, and new customers by the expansion of existing markets, for the high class products of our agricultural land.
In this great effort it must be remembered that there was a place for all. There was a place for the farmer to increase his living standards as there must be a place also for his worker to do the same. There was a place for organisation of co-operative societies towards greater efficiency and greater service, and equally so, as must be shown by equal participation in grants and in Government facilities, there was a place for the businessman, the technician and the urban dweller. If there was no advantage for all these people then the expansion and the organisation of agriculture was something that could never take place.
I still believe, whether or not I am being a bit swollen-headed, in quoting what I said in 1964, that I was right then and that in fact if we do not interest the townlander and the industrialist in the expansion of agriculture, then that expansion falls far short of its optimum and the necessary funds will not be available for its achievement.
I now come to the part of the Minister's speech in which he dealt with the NFA dispute. I want to express, as a Member of Dáil Éireann, my extreme regret that he saw fit to do so in that way. I think without even the extension of a leaf from an olive branch, a lack of mention of the dispute would have been a great step forward in an impossible situation which he does not seem to help. The Minister gave us a detailed description of the NFA campaign as he sees it. There is quite a lot of truth in certain of the statements he made but there are certain things he did not say and certain things on which he put an individual complexion or interpretation.
I want to say, in relation to the first paragraph on page 23 of his circulated speech, that the then Minister, the present Minister for Finance, Deputy Haughey, knew quite well before the farmers ever started to march from Cork that he had broken off relations with them. He had done so because of a critical speech by the President of the NFA some days before they started to march from Cork. I do not believe he ever meant to meet them. His arrogance, which is a feature of Fianna Fáil Cabinet Ministers at the moment, had reached such a peak that he was prepared to believe he could let them arrive, not see them and make them go away again in a sort of dishonoured and humble fashion.
I do not believe there was a secret plan in relation to the sit-down on the steps. I am not condoning lawlessness of any kind. If the Minister had been a reader ofTime magazine at the same time as the farmers were sitting on the steps, he would have seen in it photographs of a group of negroes who were camping outside the White House in America. They had been there at that stage for 180 days and the Constitution of America certainly protected them in doing so. Nobody referred to them in any speeches. I would also point out that before the Minister set up his National Agricultural Council, he instructed his secretary to write to the NFA cutting off the yearly price review which he had given them only nine months before.
It would be a most healthy thing if the Minister could meet the farming organisations and discuss prices with them once a year. I am the first Member of this Parliament to say that the man who has most to do with prices, as far as those prices are involved in subsidies and Government moneys, should be the Minister, but before the National Agricultural Council was announced, the secretary of the Department was instructed to write to the NFA cancelling their price review.
Remember also that in the dispute the previous May the NFA were put in the difficult position that they were to go into their talks with the Minister on the price review at the same time as the ICMSA were parading up and down outside those offices. This situation was also fraught with difficulty for them. I want also to suggest that the arrest of a large number of members of the NFA on the day before they were to hold their council meeting, for which the main item on the agenda was the cessation of any illegal activity, was perhaps again calculated to annoy and distract them.
I want also to discuss the matter of the unanimity of the court decisions. I am not going to reflect on the justices or the courts but the Attorney General, as is his right under our Constitution, sought the severest penalities and sought, for the first time, to my knowledge, in this country, the disqualification of drivers for a period of six months, knowing that to most farmers with business to do and motorcars probably one of the severest punishments outside jail that could be inflicted on them was withdrawal for six months of their driving licences. There is the rare court case where this is paralleled by similar cases all over the country. Justices are only human and they must take heed, naturally, of the instructions of the Attorney General to his prosecutor, the State Solicitor, in those ordinary District Court cases. That is normal, proper and constitutional.
Therefore, a result of this was that what should certainly have been reduced in its seriousness by a different attitude by the Attorney General was expanded into something that was extremely serious and on which all justices followed a certain line. Law and judgment there must be, but I feel that the Attorney General who has the normal right of sitting with the Cabinet here must have heard the discussions thereon and that his decision, which he had a full right to give and which we must never take from him, to seek these arbitrary penalties was calculated to annoy and distract the NFA and put them at cross purposes with the Government.
To what conclusion do I come from this? I draw the conclusion that the Minister has convinced the Taoiseach that it would be in the best interests of the Fianna Fáil Party to crush the NFA irrevocably and that he is proceeding along this path in that conviction. I know the Minister as one of the most efficient and ruthless Party politicians in this House. The Minister will not, I am sure, take exception to either description. To me the happiest event that could arise would be if the NFA became lawless again, if they blocked the roads and if they created a situation whereby the Government could again invoke their powers and draw attention to their rights and their need to administer justice.
This is something that must bedevil entirely any opportunity for agricultural expansion. Attention has been drawn in this House to the fact that applications for loans to the Agricultural Credit Corporation are down, very severly down, this spring. I want to suggest that that is a sign of the times and that people who have no belief in the future, who have no hope, who are pulling away, and who believe that the advancement of the neighbour's farm is something that must be duplicated in their own, no longer come for loans. In a period of a credit squeeze, which is continuing, the opposite should be the case. The Agricultural Credit Corporation from whom farmers can seek long term loans is their own institution, founded by the late Deputy Paddy Hogan.
I believe the Minister desires the end of the NFA. He wants to crush them absolutely, completely and permanently. I should like to quote an extract from this afternoon's issue of theEvening Herald under the heading “Kildare NFA Criticises Circular”:
Contents of a circular sent to officers by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries were criticised by Kildare NFA Executive, at Naas. This directed that if information was received that any milk supplier was being intimidated in the supply of his milk to his creamery, the officer should get full details from him, including details of alternative transport facilities proposed, and telephone the Department immediately. The circular listed names of officers to whom the information should be telephoned.
It was also stated in the circular that, if it is possible to do so without delaying the report, the officer should inform the local Gardai, who might be able to supply further information, but, in any event, the Gardai should be contacted.
The chairman, Mr. Jim Blake, said it was disgraceful that such a request should be made to officers. Every Deputy should be asked if he was going to put down a question about it, and take a stand one way or another.
How far have we gone from the day when Deputy James Dillon as Minister for Agriculture said that any officer of his Department, or of a committee of agriculture, who came to a farmer's gate and was not invited in should go home? I am not condoning intimidation but I would point to the page in the Minister's speech which leads to intimidation. All he can produce is three isolated instances involving three people. I know of things that happen. I know about a can of milk that was spilled during this unfortunate dispute. I know that members of the local branch of the NFA did not spill it because the particular place where it was spilled is surrounded by four houses. A stranger had to arrive and get away but no stranger was seen. There are suspicions about who spilled it. To produce that isolated instance as something of a serious nature at a time when things are so serious is absolutely ridiculous.
Let me now point to a fact the Minister stated in his speech, that people who are involved in these incidents are a small minority. Let me inform the Minister that yesterday in the National Stadium the place was so crowded that some farmers had to leave after a certain period so as to let their comrades in for a similar period. Five thousand farmers, at least, assembled in Dublin yesterday to talk about their grievances at a time when the Minister is so bent to destroy their organisation.
What other evidence is there that the Minister desires this destruction? He has now decided that he will license marts. It is clear from all the newspaper reports I have read—it is hoped they are true and I am sure they are— that this is because he feels there is a danger of intimidation at cattle marts. I know of no serious intimidation at these marts. There may have been certain hotheads who said things they should not have said but there is no evidence that I know of of intimidation, except one isolated instance in the midlands. Worse than that, a previous Minister for Agriculture, Deputy Smith, produced the Agriculture (Amendment) Bill, 1964, whereby for the first time 50 per cent of the members of committees of agriculture would be extern members, the intention being that these people would be members of farmers organisations. We now have on the Order Paper of this House an amending Bill to get rid of this Act.